Exactly one year has passed since Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal last played each other on the tennis court. The last time it took them this long to meet was between their first and second encounters.
Their second encounter, a long 5-setter in which Federer was two points from defeat and came back from a two-set deficit, was the beginning of an incredible journey the tennis world would soon embark on. It would be fun to speculate that this match will the start of another 20 amazing encounters between the two, but I have my doubts.
Last year, when the two met here, Nadal was on an incredible five match winning streak that included French Open, Wimbledon, and Australian Open titles over the Swiss maestro. There was literally no indication that Federer could snap that streak. Not on clay, not in Spain, not with the way Federer had been playing up till that point. But the alleged GOAT pulled of a 6-4 6-4 victory over the then-number one.
This year, things are fairly similar but also very different. Nadal hasn’t won a slam in over a year and just reclaimed his number two ranking. But he has been playing some of his best tennis and has only dropped two sets throughout the three Masters events on clay. Federer, on the other hand, played brilliant tennis to win the Australian Open, only dropping two sets, but has been losing left and right to anyone who isn’t scared to beat him.
The surface is quick and the altitude makes the ball fly and Nadal has managed to throw that into just about every presser that involves Madrid. But clay is still clay, and Nadal is still the clay king. And even though Federer won here last year, Nadal has to be the favorite tomorrow.
What intrigues me most about this match is that, for the first time ever in their rivalry, it will be a match up of French Open champions. There’s no way of knowing how much that’ll affect either players’ mentality (Federer’s more than Nadal’s), but it’s an interesting tidbit. Also, should Federer win this match, it’ll arguably be the most important win he’s ever gotten over Nadal. There will be no asterisks or excuses tomorrow, Nadal is healthy, rested, hungry, and playing well.
If Nadal wins, he’ll break the Masters record and also be the first player to ever win all three Masters on clay in one year. Plus, it’ll inch him closer to Federer’s number one ranking. And should he beat Federer, it’ll reaffirm the passing of the baton that started back in 2008.
All in all, the tennis world is just bursting out of their seats for this match (imagine if we waited until they met in a slam). I hope to see a good tight match, preferably three sets. Again, Nadal is the favorite, but it’s not secret who I’ll be rooting for: tennis!
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