Mariano Zabaleta faced Roger Federer four times in career. The Argentinean managed to prevail only once, in 2000 Miami on hard courts. Federer prevailed at 2002 Monte Carlo, 2003 Rome and 2005 Miami. Zabaleta said: "I played in Monte Carlo with Federer (2002) and on clay I was hard, I was playing very well.
He was a great player, but on clay we saw him making mistakes on many aspects. I was 24 years old and he was 21. I faced him in the Monte Carlo first round and I lost 7-6 6-4. Very tough match. When I saw Nalbandian in the locker room, he comes and I say, i lost.
He was like, You cannot lose to Federer! He was telling me that on clay I could not lose. Then the other day Nalbandian defeated Federer 6-2 6-1. Roger was not that good on the backhand side, which then he obviously improved becoming the greatest player ever."
"Many people now tell me, You beat Federer, incredible", said Zabaleta. "Because a very few guys beat Federer since he never loses. But it makes me very happy. I imagine myself one day being able to tell my children that I beat a guy like that.
Federer was not number one, but he was there. The difference of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic is how they solve issues in the key moment. They have the mindset. Nadal knows everything about the opponent, I went dinner with him and we spoke about players.
He knows how any player competes. You can ask how he plays and he tells you he is very good because he is very strong. And you tell him, C'mon, you are Nadal! I do not know if Federer is worried like him, I did not spend time with him.
With Rafa a bit more because he was a close friend to Pico (Monaco). And Djokovic, I understood that he knows how any player competes, trains, how he plays matches on any surface."