With the withdrawal from the “Sunshine Double” tournaments (Indian Wells and Miami), questions abound about Rafa’s future on the hard courts. At the age of 32, his performance on hard courts have become less frequent over the years.
The surface seems to wreak havoc on his body, culminating in a chronic knee tendinitis that forced him to withdraw from the highly anticipated Federer match at Indian Wells. With tickets hovering around $3,000, it was a major disappointment for fans of their historic rivalry.
Nadal only participated in two hard court events prior to PNB Paribas, going out in the second round of the Mexican event. He skipped the entire hard-court season that occurs during the last half of 2018, sitting out right after the U.S.
Open. In addition, the Swiss has been able to narrow the head-to-head gap between the two because of his superior record on the surface. Fed’s won their last five faceoffs prior, with all the victories occurring on hard courts, including the first to reverse the Nadal-Federer trend, the Basel Indoor tournament in 2015.
Considering their ages—37 and 32—many fans have been wondering if this was the last chance to witness the two icons of their sport battle. Every opportunity seems fleeting as the two are closer to retirement age than anything else, even if they still dominate their sport.
However, with the two firmly situated in the Top 5, and still achieving ATP titles—Fed’s record 100th came just last month, and Nadal made the Australian Open final—can we comfortably say they won’t play each other again? It all depends on their schedule of course.
As of now, Rafa won’t participate on the Tour until the clay season, partly because that is where he retains the greatest prowess, and also because the surface favors his body and is the least punishing for the “king of clay”.
In 2018, the two legends never played each other. The closest they got was the U.S. Open, before John Millman knocked out Roger Federer in the fourth round. The difference between the years 2017 and 2018 was the health of Rafa’s body, which dipped a bit, with Fed continuing to sit out the clay season.
With Federer’s decision to participate in the Madrid Masters event and Roland Garros, the opportunity for the two of them to play each other has grown exponentially. It is likely that Nadal’s knee issues will heal by the time Monte Carlo rolls around.
Although the Swiss doesn’t come close to Nadal’s mastery on the surface, Fed’s won 11 clay titles earlier in his career and it would still prove fascinating to watch them go toe-to-toe on the orange dirt.
Could Federer’s renewed conviction against his former nemesis give him a confidence boost if the two compete on Nadal’s home turf? One thing’s for sure, fans will be hoping for another showdown between the two legends. Any opportunity for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to play each other is a cherished, albeit rare occurrence.