On Sunday evening Melbourne hosts the renaissance of a modern-day classic as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal meet once more in a Gram Slam final at the Australian Open.
Federer and Nadal—tennis’ most decorated men’s singles players—have won 31 grand slam tournaments between them. Their rivalry was so prevalent that they won 24 of 28 grand slam tournaments between 2004 and 2010.
Their venerable yet fierce matches reverberated globally and arguably climaxed in 2008 at Wimbledon. Nadal prevailed in a marathon five-setter to win his first major title away from Roland Garros.
The glorious duopoly curtailed following an unforgiving combination of injuries plus the rise of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Although another five majors have been added to the trophy cabinet since the turn of the decade neither player has had their name added to Grand Slam scribes for almost three years. Federer has on numerous occasions narrowly missed out on winning his 18th major (three times a finalist and five times a semi-finalist since his 2012 Wimbledon crown) and before this week’s exploits Nadal had failed to reach the last four of a major since he won the 2014 French Open.
Aged 35, Father Time appeared to be calling on Federer’s career after he took six months off last year to cure his knee injury. Alongside 30-year-old Nadal’s long standing concerns their diminished ATP rankings (the Spaniard was seeded ninth and the Swiss seventeenth for Melbourne) was a reflection of how far the mighty had fallen.
Upon winning his semi-final against countryman Stan Wawrinka, Federer recalled a story how he visited Nadal’s new tennis academy in Majorca in October last year. The rivals had spoken of putting on an exhibition match but their weary bodies would not comply. “I was on one leg and he (Nadal) had his wrist problem. We could only play mini tennis with the juniors.”
Fast-forward three months the duo have exceeded all expectations and must put their friendship to one side as they seek to add another enthralling chapter to their illustrious legacy.