Is Fedal the Greatest Rivalry in Tennis?


Rivalries are probably the most exciting things in competitive sports. They drive athletes to perform better against each other and push themselves beyond limits. There is simply nothing like a duel of two great players at their best to stir up interest.

Whether it’s two football players going at each other every day on the pitch or two tennis players matching each other shot for shot, few things can electrify a crowd like a good individual rivalry. This is particularly true for individual sports as there is no team for you to rely on – every mistake is your own, and every point scored is yours.

Some of the greatest rivalries we’ve seen in men’s tennis include Borg vs. McEnroe, Laver vs. Rosewall, Sampras vs. Agassi, and of course, the rivalries between the “Big 3” of Djoković, Nadal, and Federer. But the rivalry that stands out as the greatest is the Rafael-Nadal stand-off (often referred to as the “Fedal” rivalry).

Over the past 15 years, in addition to winning 39 grand slam titles combined, they have also redefined the game of tennis and taken each other to the next level. But what makes the Fedal rivalry so special and why do we love and cherish it so much?

Different in Every Aspect

There is nothing that a sports fan (and a tennis fan, for that matter) enjoys more than the contrast of styles and personalities simultaneously on display. The contrast of the two players has been a fundamental factor in giving any sports rivalry sky-high popularity. It’s the contrast that creates these clashes, captivates fans, and becomes the driving force of a rivalry, while the sport itself grows and thrives.

These two players, while both being champions multiple times, nurture entirely different play styles. Federer, with his powerful forehand, is regarded as the most prolific attacker of all time. His do-or-die style is not atypical, but the fact that he has done it so successfully over the past 15 years made him a dreaded opponent on the fast courts.

Contrary to him, Nadal, while occasionally making an unbelievable winner with his running forehand, has a mostly defensive playstyle. His seemingly endless stamina and never-give-up attitude made him the least desired opponent on clay, which by itself slows the game pace. We have all seen him simply tire out his opponents with his endless running and return shots nobody else can pull off three hours into the match.

And it’s not only about playing styles. Nadal, with his hot-blooded Mediterranean temper, is the opposite of Federer’s cool and composed Swiss demeanor. While not exactly a ticking bomb like some other players, he has from time to time shown outbursts of either joy or rage, while the same cannot be said for Federer. Think about it, how many times have you seen Federer jumping in celebration or shouting at the judge?

Tremendous Respect off the Court

While the dynamic of this duo has been nothing short of explosive on the courts, they have shown nothing but respect for one another outside of tennis arenas. Even though their lives would have been easier if the other one was not present, as per their own admission, mutual encounters forced them to improve and adapt to better counter one another.

As Federer pointed out himself, I became a different player due to Nadal’s presence. The five years younger Nadal has said, in return, that he regarded Federer as a role model.

Think about that for a second – even in such a competitive atmosphere, they found a way to respect each other. Compare that to the usual banter between other individual sportsmen, such as boxers and MMA fighters, and it becomes apparent just how much of true gentlemen these two are. And this is a fact that should be appreciated in this modern era.

It’s Not Over Yet

Despite being in their mid (late) 30s, Nadal and Federer still compete at a very high level. However, father time comes for most of us, and it’s only a matter of time before they pass the torch to the new gunners. That said, we should cherish every game, set, and match these two extraordinary athletes play because who knows when (and if) will we have the opportunity to witness a rivalry this great again.

Would the legendary Fedal rivalry have been able to capture our hearts if the two legends had both been virtuosos of the same style of play? Probably not.

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Stefan Nedeljkovic
Hi, I’m Stefan, and I live for sports. No… I’m serious, I literally live for sports. I grew up within a family unit where my mom was an avid tennis player, my father played football, and my uncles and aunts (all who visited us fairly regularly) played basketball and table tennis at a competitive level. So when we weren’t playing sports, we were watching it. And when we weren’t watching sports, we were listening to it on the radio in the car. So sports have always been a part of the fabric of not only my childhood, but also my adult life too. Personally, I can play most sports. But my favorite is tennis. Here at The Sporty, I’ll be using my all-rounder sports skills to bring you the latest and greatest from the world of sports. But I will also do my best to cover as much tennis related news as I can. So that’s me in a nutshell - game, set and match.