Federer versus Nadal: Who is the greatest of them all?

Federer is a born victor but Nadal is the epitome of dominance. Choosing may be a sin- but it’s Nadal for me!

Ali Osama Malik April 23, 2013
Art is the purest form of human expression - free from the quagmire of social pessimism. The best way to appreciate it lies in the process of rising above vague parameters of judgment, which in their very design, are destined to create an infinite cycle of controversy. 

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are two modern day champions who epitomise art in sport.

Watching these two greats grace the tennis court is akin to the privilege of observing Leonardo da Vinci paint Mona Lisa, or Beethoven author a masterpiece.

It is with these thoughts that I attempt to write about two of the greatest champions that the world has ever seen, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Teenage tantrums, girlfriend/boyfriend politics and cola after dinner are some cast-iron certainties in life that we have gotten accustomed to. Their absence causes bewilderment. Nadal winning on clay is one of these certainties. Never has anyone, in the history of human competition, achieved a degree of domination as Nadal has in tennis.

It is a tribute to the greatness of the athlete that anyone with only a modicum of common sense would rather bet on Lord Voldemort coming to life than a fit and injury free Nadal losing on clay. Even though Nadal lost to Djokovic on Sunday, the fact that it was only the third time in 16 matches over 7 years that Djokovic had managed to defeat Nadal,  puts the the matter in a better perspective.

Nadal was a child prodigy who caught the attention of the world with an unorthodox forehand, bulging biceps, stamina of a marathon runner and a strange habit of inappropriately tugging at his shorts before serving.

His big breakthrough came at the Davis Cup when a teenage Nadal defeated Andrew Roddick in four sets, in 2004. The legendary rivalry with Roger Federer, Rolland Garros titles, 2008 and 2010 wins at Wimbledon, and success on hard courts when facing unprecedented competition, all elevated Nadal to the status of a legend.

His recent struggles with injury gave the world a chance to witness the powers of determination and hard work and confirmed his status amongst the greats.

Amidst the recent vitriolic criticism on Nadal’s fitness, one thing that most sport analysts forget about is his age. Nadal is not yet 27. Even if his career finishes today, he will be remembered as one of the very best.

Already with 11 Grand Slam titles, 22 Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) masters titles, four Davis Cup wins and an Olympic singles gold medal, Nadal has established himself as one of the stars in the hierarchy of tennis legends.

By the time Nadal does decide to hang up his tennis boots, who knows how big the trophy cabinet will be for him.

The story of Roger Federer is very different from Nadal’s, as is his style of play. He had to overcome his short temper and fear of losing, in order to achieve success.

When Federer had conquered these demons, there was no stopping him. The titanic victory against Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001 marked the start of a new era - Federer’s era.

Over the course of the next few years, Federer dominance was unrivalled. The Grand Slam record of Sampras, thought to be an unassailable peak in tennis was vanquished by Federer. However, it was Federer’s style of play that made the world fall in love with him.

When Federer plays, children stop crying, couples stop fighting, and poor opponents resort to irrational delusions. He moves on the court like a swan on a lake, and defies the laws of physics with his craft. Sports writers have described him as being a magician with a tennis racquet, and never in the history of sport has an analogy held more merit.

Nadal and Federer are both very lucky to have faced each other as opponents, as they bring the best out of each other. Despite suggestions by some analysts, I believe a head to head count does hold some merit. In that context Nadal and Federer are tied six each, in their 12 hard court meetings, with Nadal winning both of the Grand Slam encounters.

On grass, Federer has had the better of Nadal twice with Nadal’s sole victory coming in the epic Wimbledon final in 2008. Nadal has completely dominated Federer on clay, winning 12 of the 14 matches including five times at Roland Garros.

So is Nadal the greatest or is it Federer?

Everyone can have different opinions, but it is my humble assertion that it will be blatant injustice not to include other greats from the past such as Laver, Bjorg, and Becker in this discussion. However, if someone would force me to choose one, it will probably be Nadal, but that’s only my point of view.

Read more by Ali here.
Ali Osama Malik The writer graduated from Aga Khan University, where he was the captain of the University Tennis team for the year 2010.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Gaz | 9 years ago | Reply There are way more clay court tournaments than grass (21 clay and 4 grass) per season. So naturally Nadal will have a better winning record against Federer, simple as that. If there were 21 grass and 4 clay, I doubt Nadal would have won as many Masters titles. I don't think anyone can argue that that are way more clay than grass. And of course Roger is 5 yrs older too, so when Nadal is at his prime, Federer is not. When Roger is at his prime, Nadal was nowhere to be seen except French Open.
Radu | 9 years ago | Reply This is a good one! Federer and Nadal so different on the court and off the court; yet someone is better, but who?! Lets start be saying I liked federer from the begining! He dad a sortein whey of being! Then came Nadal, who I did not liked his style and his roors, but he grow on me! They are separated by a 5 year gap! That is something, they have never played eache other at ther best! How can we judce a player to be better then other?! Grand Slams are the most important, direct matches?! Lets take Grand Slams! Federer has at 31 almost 32 years 17 Grand Slams! At the Age taht Rafa had 27 years he had only 13! Nadal has now 11, not hnowing what will hapen in the today Roland GArros final! Lets say 12! The Diffrent its just one! Not much in it, and i think has good change to win Wimbledon as well this year, so that can easily be even at the same age! This is a work in progres Nadal has a few more years in him to win some more Grand Slams! Im not saying Roger is done, caput, but I see him winning another one only if he has a very good form and the draw is good for him! Lets see hnow direct matches. Its 20 to 10 for Nadal! Lets brake them Hard court - 6 for the both, grass court - 2 , 1 for Federer and clay 13 to 2 for Nadal! What I cand see from this is that Nadal is pretty even with Federer on fast court but Federer is way behind on clay! And I believe this vs will at this stage get bigger in faver of Nadal because of the age differente! I think really that we can1t really say who is better! What we cand say that Nadal its closer to federer on fast courts that Federer is to Nadal on clay! What if most on the matches in atp where played in clay, what then?!
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