Sixteen years ago in Miami, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal wrote the first chapter of what would become one of the greatest rivalries in the history of the sport, facing each other 40 times and battling in the final of nine Major tournaments.
Their latest encounter came in the semi-final at Wimbledon last year and two great rivals will have to wait a couple of months for a possible 41st match, with a coronavirus halting the tennis season at least until June but probably even more.
ESPN has prepared the 22-hour Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal marathon for its viewers, bringing six back-to-back Major duels between the Swiss and the Spaniard, all from the Australian Open and Wimbledon. The action starts with 2006 Wimbledon final that Roger won 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 in two hours and 58 minutes, ousting the improving rival who wasn't a contender for the Major on grass in the previous years.
Federer forced more errors than Nadal and had the upper hand in the shortest and mid-range exchanges to forge the triumph, opening a 5-1 lead in the fourth set and sealing the deal three games later to lift the fourth straight Wimbledon title as the third player in the Open era after Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras.
After that, we travel to the Australian Open 2012 and their semi-final battle that Nadal won 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4 after grueling three hours and 42 minutes. Nadal lost serve thrice and grabbed six breaks to cross the finish line first, taking advantage of more than 50 unforced errors from the Swiss and controlling the pace in the shortest exchanges to cross the finish line first and advance into the final.
In 2007, Roger equaled Bjorn Borg's Open era record of five straight Wimbledon crowns, beating Rafa 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2 in three hours and 45 minutes. In his second consecutive Wimbledon title match, Nadal produced even better tennis than a year ago, winning only seven points less than Federer who started all over in the deciding set to maintain the trophy for another year.
The Australian Open 2017 was one of their most beautiful stories ever, with both struggling with injuries in 2016 and bouncing back to set another Major final. This time, it was Federer who notched a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 triumph in three hours and 38 minutes, earning the 18th Major crown and making the best possible return.
With his improved backhand, Roger stayed in touch with Rafa in the longer rallies, overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the decider to rattle off five straight games and conquer one of the most exclusive titles in a career. In July 2008, Federer and Nadal fought for the title at Wimbledon for the third straight season, only with a different outcome than in 2006 and 2007.
In one of the greatest matches of all time, Rafa toppled the All England Club king 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7 in four hours and 48 minutes, sealing the deal just a couple of moments before complete darkness and adding the fourth Major to his tally, just after turning 22!
Nadal fended off 12 out of 13 break chances and that was barely enough to drive him over the finish line, dropping the third and fourth set in the tie breaks before securing a crucial break at 7-7 in the decider, sealing the deal after deuce in the next game to start a massive celebration of what was one of the proudest moments of his tennis journey.
At the end of this marathon, the ESPN crowd will be able to see another epic encounter from Melbourne 2009 that Nadal won 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2, taking another big step towards a Career Grand Slam and conquering a Major title on all three different surfaces.
He had to produce out of this world tennis in the semis and the final, ousting Fernando Verdasco in another marathon just to set this clash with Roger and saving enough energy to take down the Swiss as well and lift the trophy after four hours and 19 minutes.
Roger gave his best to stay in touch, forcing a decider where Rafa outplayed him completely, dropping three points behind the initial shot and stealing Federer's serve in games four and eight to move over the top and write history again.