By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
They have 37 Grand Slam titles between the two of them. They sit at first and second atop the all-time list. Just two and a half years ago, the tennis world questioned whether either one of them would ever win another major.
Well, those questions didn’t age well, did they?
Since the start of 2017 Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have combined to win six majors. Federer is more than a full calendar year removed from his 2018 title in Melbourne. Nadal has won the last two tournaments at Roland Garros and is looking for his record-extending 12th win in Paris.
The two will meet in the semifinals Friday morning for their 39th meeting. Nadal owns a 23-15 record against the man he’s called “The Greatest of All Time” and has never lost to Federer at the French Open. Federer’s lone title in Paris came after Nadal was upset in the fourth round of the tournament by Robin Soderling, clearing a path for Federer to complete his career Grand Slam.
The winner will likely face Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final. Djokovic himself has claimed the other three majors in the past two and a half years. His total of 15 is the third most all time. After a severe elbow injury sidelined him for much of 2017 he appears to be in full form after winning the last three slams.
Federer and Nadal haven’t met in a major since the final of the 2017 Australian Open, which Federer won in five sets. Rafa has the edge overall on the major stage, holding a 9-3 record against tennis’ GOAT in grand slams.
The sport’s greatest rivalry has featured some of the best matches in the sport’s history. The back-to-back Wimbledon finals in 2007 and ’08 showed Nadal was more than just a clay court specialist while showing the Federer would ultimately be cemented as one of the all time greats. The 2009 Aussie Open finale featured remarkable shot making and was Nadal’s first hard court major win. The 2017 final in Melbourne showed both men still could compete at a high level on the game’s biggest stage.
And to think, in 2009 questions began to surface whether Federer’s reign atop the sport was over. Since then he’s won seven more Grand Slams to bring his total to 20. He waited four and a half years between titles No. 17 and 18.
Nadal continued to suffer injuries in 2014 and went three years before finally surpassing Pete Sampras for second all time with his 15th major in 2017.
Both men have continued to impress with age. Federer turns 38 in August. Nadal turned 33 on Monday. Both players have made it to the semifinals having only dropped one set each through five matches.
What used to be a common occurrence is becoming more of a rarity with these two meeting in one of tennis’ four Grand Slam tournaments. It’s unclear how much longer Federer will continue to play. A father of four, Federer’s two oldest twin daughters will turn ten later this summer. Meanwhile Nadal’s injury history makes one wonder how long his body can hold up, but he continues to come back and compete at a high level.
Enjoy these guys while they’re still here. Djokovic looming in the final is a tough follow-up for the winner of Friday’s semifinal, but a title for either player means a lot. Federer or Djokovic would become the first man in the open era to win each major twice. A title for Nadal would close the gap between Federer and Rafa to just two majors. The closest its ever been.
The 39th edition of the rivalry is set for Friday morning. Federer is the GOAT. Nadal is the favorite. It should be a lot of fun.