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Photos: Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer through the years - relive the greatest rivalry in men's tennis!

Live Tennis Staff in News 16 Mar 2019
  • Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal face off in the Indian Wells semi-finals on Saturday
  • Nadal leads the head-to-head 23-15, but Federer has won the last five
  • Federer vs Nadal Indian Wells Masters tennis is live from Indian Wells on Saturday at 12.30pm local time (7.30pm GMT)
Nadal and Federer at the net after the 2009 Australian Open final (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal face off in the 2019 Indian Wells semi-finals on Saturday, with Federer on a five-match winning streak against Nadal: We look back at the history of one of the greatest rivalries sport has ever known.

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Affectionately known as 'Fedal', the decade-old rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal has not only electrified the tennis world since their first meeting in 2004, but has come to transcend the sport thanks to iconic duels on the biggest stages like the Wimbledon 2008 final - commonly agreed to be the greatest tennis match ever played.
Featuring two all-time greats who have each achieved things thought to be impossible in their sport, but whose game styles and personae are so different, it's become a duel of archetypes - the timeless elegance of Federer's fluid attacking game vs the bone-shuddering brute force of Nadal's muscular power tennis from the baseline - which is only reconciled in the unquestioned sportsmanship exhibited by both men and their mutual respect, even friendship.

Federer and Nadal during the ITPL (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

When Federer and Nadal clashed in the final of the Australian Open back in January 2017, Federer stunned the world when the 35-year-old beat his long-time nemesis Nadal in five sets to capture a magical 18th Grand Slam title. The rivalry between the two dominated the first two Masters 1000 Series events of the year when they faced off in the fourth round of Indian Wells and the final of Miami - and each time, Federer won in straight sets, and after another straight sets win in the final of Shanghai, he established an unprecedented five-match winning streak against Nadal. Can he make it six when they face off in the Indian Wells semi-finals?
We look back at the history of the Federer vs Nadal rivalry and where it stands ahead of this exciting Indian Wells semi-final clash!


  • Nadal leads the all-time head-to-head 23-15
  • On hard courts, Federer has the slight advantage, leading 11-9
  • At Masters 1000 Series events, Nadal leads 12-7
  • Federer has won their last five meetings and their last three in straight sets


The first meeting between the two was in Miami in March 2004. Nadal was 17 and ranked 34, while Federer was 22 and ranked no. 1, already a champion at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. Nadal won, 6-3, 6-3. But much tougher battles lay ahead for both.

Nadal v Federer: Miami 2005
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The pair next met at the same tournament a year later, March 2005. In the intervening time Federer had won Wimbledon again and a first US Open. This time Federer would prevail but only after three hours and 42 minutes and coming back from two sets and 1-4 down, winning 2-6, 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-1. 

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Nadal at Miami, March 2005  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Nadal, 18 at that time, was the youngest finalist in Miami history. 'It was extremely close,' Federer said at the time, having been two points from defeat. 'I consider myself lucky to get through.'


Federer congratulates Nadal after losing their semi-final match at Roland Garros in 2005 (JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Their first Grand Slam meeting was at the 2005 French Open. Nadal won in four sets, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 on the way to his first Grand Slam title. It was the beginning of Nadal's epic dominance over Roland Garros.  'I was bad at the start, good in the middle,and bad at the end,' Federer said. 'I thought I had the keys to beat him but I wasn't at my best.'

Nadal would claim their next four meetings before the 2006 Wimbledon final stopped his streak. Nadal recovered from a first-set bagel to serve for the second set and led 3-1 in the tiebreak before losing it, and the third set which he won was the first set Federer had lost throughout the Championships. It was only Nadal's twelfth match at Wimbledon. Federer won 6-0, 7-6(5), 6-7(2), 6-3 and took his fourth Wimbledon title. 'I hope any year I come back here in the final and win, I hope one year I don't play against a guy like Roger,' said Nadal. 'He played unbelievable on this surface and I improved a lot this year, so I am very happy for that. But I can play on this surface, no?'

Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates

Federer celebrates victory in Hamburg (ROLAND MAGUNIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Federer evened up their hard-court head-to-head to 2-2 with a win at the Tennis Masters Cup the same year, then beat Nadal for the first time on clay at the Hamburg Masters. Federer's 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 win ended a streak of 81 consecutive wins on clay for Nadal, still just 20. 'It's absolutely a breakthrough. It will be interesting to see how we both react in the French Open,' said Federer.

Nadal and Federer after Nadal's four-set victory at Roland Garros, 2007 (JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images)

How did they react? Nadal won 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 and became the sixth player in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam three years in succession. 'The easy way out would be to say I missed too many opportunities. That hurt me, but he played an excellent match and deserved to win,' Federer said. 'He raised his level and he was stronger at the end.'

Federer went on to emulate Bjorn Borg's feat of winning five straight Wimbledon titles, but only after a five-set battle with Nadal that lasted three hours and forty-five minutes before Federer won, 7-6(7), 4-6, 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-2. 'Each one is special but to play a champion like Rafa, it means a lot,' Federer said afterwards. 'He's a fantastic player and he's going to be around so much longer so I'm happy with every one I get before he takes them all!'

Federer and Nadal with the trophies at Roland Garros, 2008  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

2008 was the year that 'Fedal' reached its peak. Nadal won three clay-court meetings with Federer, at Hamburg, Monte Carlo and Roland Garros, where he was utterly dominant in a 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 victory. 'He plays like two forehands from the baseline because he has an open stance on both sides,' said Federer. 'So he's got a huge advantage, and he's so tough mentally too. ... But the clay season is over, so let's see what happens.'

Then came the match often described as the greatest of all time. It really needs no introduction, but for the record: Nadal won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(8), 9-7 to claim his first Wimbledon title. 'I tried everything, but Rafa's a deserving champion, he's the worst opponent on the best court,' Federer said. 'He's still the No1, he's still the best,' a jubilant Nadal said afterwards. 'He's won five times here. But now I have one, and that's very important to me.'

Nadal comforts Federer after the 2009 Australian Open final (GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

The days of 'Fedal' meeting regularly in tour events were over. Their next meeting came in the final of the Australian Open in 2009, Nadal winning another five-set epic, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-2. Nadal had replaced Federer as world no. 1 by this point and became, on that night, the first male Spanish player to win a hard-court Slam. Federer teared up in the trophy ceremony, choking out 'God, it's killing me' before composing himself and congratulating Nadal. 'I don’t want to have the last word; this guy deserves it,' Federer said. 'You played incredible. You deserve it, man.'

Federer in action against Nadal at the World Tour Finals in 2010  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

In 2010, Federer and Nadal played for the first time in the finals of the ATP World Tour Championship, now held in London. Federer won the indoor meeting 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. Nadal has only won one of their indoor meetings.

Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts as he plays

Nadal celebrates a point during the 2011 Roland Garros final, one of three victories over Federer that year (PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images)

In 2011, three of their four encounters went Nadal's way, including a 7-5, 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-1 win in the Roland Garros final. Federer got one at the end of the year though, beating Nadal 6-3, 6-0 at the ATP World Tour Finals.

In 2012, Federer and Nadal played in the semi-final of the Australian Open. Nadal won in four sets, 6-7(5), 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-4. The victory took the head-to-head to 18-9 in Nadal's favour, 8-2 in Grand Slam play. 'When you play indoor, when you play best of three sets, he plays aggressive,' said Nadal. 'Playing best of five outdoor, you normally have more time to do things and to try to find solutions to the problem that he’s causing.'

They would only play once again in 2012, a 6-3, 6-4 victory for Federer at Indian Wells. A year later in 2013, Nadal won at the same tournament, 6-4, 6-2 and got his first indoor victory over Federer at the 2013 ATP World Tour Finals, taking the overall head-to-head to 22-10 in Nadal's favour and chipping away at another formerly-secure area for Federer.

Federer and Nadal played just once in 2014, in the semifinals of the Australian Open. Both men had dropped just one set coming in to the match and Nadal looked in fearsome form while Federer displayed the kind of tennis in victories over Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga which heralded a return to his vintage best after a mediocre 2013 season.

When they met in Melbourne, however, it was the familiar story despite Federer's promising form. Nadal won 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-3 to move on to the final where he faced Stan Wawrinka and Federer's Australian Open campaign was over for another year.

Federer after his defeat to Nadal in the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2014 (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

There was some tension during the match, with Federer complaining about Nadal's grunting, but ultimately the 17-time Grand Slam champion acknowledged Nadal's victory.

'It’s totally different playing Rafa over anybody else,' Federer said. 'Playing Murray or Rafa is day and night. It’s not because of the level necessarily. It’s just that every point is played in a completely different fashion and I have to totally change my game. That’s not an excuse. It’s just a fact.'

Nadal during the 2014 Australian Open men's final (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

During the final, however, Nadal was hampered by a back injury and lost to the unheralded Stan Wawrinka. Nadal would go on to win a ninth French Open title, but his year was defined by injury and illness - unlike Federer, who captured five singles titles including two Masters 1000s, reached the finals of Wimbledon, won Davis Cup for Switzerland with Wawrinka and ended the year by overtaking Nadal in the rankings, as well as becoming a father to his second set of twins.

Federer and Nadal with their trophies after the 2015 Swiss Indoors Basel final (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Much had changed for both men by the time they met again in October 2015, in the final of the Swiss Indoors Basel.

Nadal had played a full season in 2015, but failed to win a Grand Slam or Masters 1000 title for the first time in a decade, going no further than the quarterfinals at any Slam - including the French Open, where his winning streak was finally snapped by Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Nadal won minor titles in Buenos Aires, Stuttgart and Hamburg but struggled on both serve and forehand throughout the season and his lack of confidence was patent.

Federer won five titles in 2015 including a Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati and kept in contention for both Masters and Grand Slam titles, finishing runner-up to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon and the US Open. His better season - and the boon of a fast indoors surface in Basel - showed clearly in his 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 victory over the Spanish player to bring their head-to-head to 23-11.

Federer and Nadal at the launch of the Rafa Nadal Academy in October 2016 (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

2016 would be a difficult year for both Federer and Nadal.

Federer reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, but needed knee surgery afterwards and did not return to the court until April. He missed the French Open entirely and after losing in the semifinals of Wimbledon, took the decision to take the rest of the season off to rest and recover.

Nadal, meanwhile, had to pull out of the French Open with a wrist injury, missed Wimbledon and hurried to be fit again for the Olympics, where he won gold in the men's doubles. He, too, shut down his season early to rest and recover.

The only 'Fedal' meeting the tennis world got that year was a promotional appearance for the opening of the Rafa Nadal Academy in Manacor. Federer and Nadal were scheduled to play an exhibition match, but with both men injured, they were reduced to playing mini-tennis with juniors. 

'[I]n that moment, for sure we never thought that we had the chance to be, again, in a final, and especially in the first of the year. Happened. Both of us I think worked very hard to be where we are. Is great. Is great that, again, we are in a moment like this and we going to have a chance again to enjoy a moment like this,' Nadal said after reaching the Australian Open final.

'Just very happy for me and very happy for him because I think going to be a very nice moment.'

Nadal celebrates reaching the Australian Open final in 2017 (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

'Splendid resurgence' was the theme for both Federer and Nadal and their rivalry at the 2017 Australian Open. 

Returning from a six-month injury layoff couldn't have gone much better for Federer in Melbourne. Seeded an unprecedentedly low 17th, Federer looked shaky to begin with but demolished Tomas Berdych in the third round and went on to beat Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka, both in five sets.

After beating Wawrinka in the semifinals to make his first Australian Open final since he won his fourth title in 2010, Federer jokingly called himself Nadal's 'no. 1 fan'.

'I just think he's an incredible tennis player. He's got shots that no other one has. When you have that, you are unique and special. Plus he's got the grit. He's got the mental and physical ability to sustain a super high level of play for years and for hours and for weeks. He's proven that time and time again. He's come back from many injuries, you know, time and time again. He made it seem easy, and it's not,' Federer said.

'I think he's been tremendous for the game. I have a lot of respect for him on many levels.'

Playing a day later than Federer, Nadal was tested all the way by Grigor Dimitrov in a pulsating five-set semifinal which Nadal eventually edged 6-4 in the fifth, after almost five hours.

It was the second time Nadal had gone to five sets at the 2017 Australian Open after outlasting Alexander Zverev in the third round, and marked his first appearance in a Grand Slam final since the 2014 French Open final.

It was the first meeting between Federer and Nadal in a Grand Slam final since 2011, and it quickly became an event that was being anticipated around the world.

'I feel that this rivalry go not only in the tennis world. People from outside of our world talks about this, and that's good for our sport. Is good that we are back there,' Nadal said.

Federer celebrates winning the 2017 Australian Open (Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)

For the first four sets of what quickly developed into an epic Australian Open men's final, the momentum ebbed and flowed between Federer and Nadal, with the two men flaring up to find their best tennis than fading intermittently.

When Nadal broke early in the fifth set, it appeared that once more the relentless topspin forehand of the Spanish player had worn down and would once more brush aside the Federer backhand. But it was not to be. For whatever reason - the mental wear of his difficult last couple of seasons, or the physical exhaustion from his semifinal against Dimitrov, from which he had one fewer day to recover - Nadal ever-so-slightly took his foot off the gas and it was Federer who blazed into incandescent life, breaking Nadal's serve twice as he reeled off five straight games from 1-3 down to claim an eighteenth Grand Slam title, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Federer and Nadal at Indian Wells in 2017 (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Thanks to the quirks of their currently lower-than-usual rankings, and the luck of the draw, Federer and Nadal met as early as the round of 16 at the Indian Wells Masters in March 2017. Both had won the Indian Wells Masters multiple times, but it was Federer who triumphed in an extremely one-sided contest 6-2, 6-3 to establish an unprecedented three-match winning streak against Nadal.

That Nadal is not quite the player he was in terms of consistent depth and vigour off the ground, especially on the forehand, is part of the story, but much of it is also about Federer’s increasingly hyper-aggressive approach and above all, what he is doing on the backhand – taking the ball early and on the rise with a slightly longer stroke. Federer has credited the change to switching to a slightly larger racquet, and coach Ivan Ljubicic must have had much to do with it, but the improved backhand has taken away at a stroke Nadal’s two biggest weapons against his rival – the heavy topspin forehand to the backhand as a reliable generator of soft slices to attack, and the serve out wide to the backhand.

Federer is showered with confetti after beating Nadal in the final of the Miami Masters  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

For the third time in 2017, Federer and Nadal met at a major event - just two weeks after their Indian Wells clash - when they faced off in the final of the Miami Masters. 

Federer had gone on to win the Indian Wells Masters and, despite having to save two match points against Tomas Berdych and survive a three-hour, three tie-break thriller against Nick Kyrgios in the semifinals, brought an 11-match winning streak into the final against Nadal. 

The two have never played so many times so early in a season before.

‘It feels like old times. We're playing each other every week now. We can't get enough of each other. Hopefully it's not our last match,’ Federer said.

Nadal seemed to have the physical advantage coming into the match, but again his forehand and confidence were found wanting as Federer won 6-3, 6-4, improving to 19-1 in 2017. 

Both men had to fend off break points in the early exchanges, but in a fashion characteristic of their matches in 2017, Federer swiftly became the one who was holding serve with ease and putting his opponent's delivery under constant pressure. Taking the first set, he landed an inch-perfect lob at 4-4 in the second to break and quickly served out the match to become the oldest winner of the Miami Masters title.

Federer and Nadal would go on to face each other for a fourth time towards the end of the 2017 season in the Shanghai Masters final, and once again it was Federer who emerged triumphant, securing his fifth straight win over the Spaniard and remaining unbeaten against him since 2014 as he stormed to a 6-4 6-3 victory.

Federer didn't face a break point throughout the victory - which, as of today, is the last time he won a Masters 1000 title.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal during the 2017 Shanghai Masters trophy ceremony Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Fast forward to the present, and Nadal and Federer haven't played since that 2017 Shanghai final, but that all changes on Saturday in the 2019 Indian Wells Masters semi-finals.

Both men haven't dropped a set on their way to the final four, but Nadal suffered an injury to his right knee during the second set of his victory over Karen Khachanov in the quarter-finals, later admitting in his post-match press conference that it's bothering him and could even force him to withdraw prior to the match.

There's no such worries for Federer, who has cruised to the semi-finals, beating Stan Wawrinka along the way, and is going in search of a sixth consecutive triumph over his great rival.

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Photos: Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer through the years - relive the greatest rivalry in men's tennis!

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal face off in the 2019 Indian Wells semi-finals on Saturday, with Federer on a five-match winning streak against Nadal: We look back at the history of one of the greatest rivalries sport has ever known.

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