Tennis Prose



Memory Lane: First Federer Nadal Clash Was 20 Years Ago Today

The first time Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal clashed was exactly two decades ago, in the third round of the Miami Open, then called the Nasdaq 100, on stadium court. Highlights of the historic clash here

It was a monumental moment in tennis history and one of the highlight performances of Nadal’s career.

I once asked Nadal at US Open, over a decade ago, what was the best he ever felt on the court? He thought for a moment and specified that first Federer match in Miami, where he triumphed in sensational fashion 63 63. “An unbelievable performance,” said the awed commentator David Mercer.

Tennis journalist was present in the stadium that evening and said years later, “Nadal was literally flying around the court, fist pumping and jumping. He was like a dynamo.” Nadal wore a maroon Nike sleeveless shirt, white shorts and white headband. Federer wore black shorts, white shirt and headband.

Obviously that match was, at the time, the most important match of young Rafa’s life. He was just seventeen years old and challenging the world no. 1 and greatest champion ever. Inspired and electrified by the moment, Nadal rose to the occasion and dominated Federer.

Federer’s post match quotes:

Q. Your thoughts on the match? What was he able to do to get you out of rhythm?

ROGER FEDERER: Well, I think it’s always difficult to play someone for the first time, first of all. But I think, you know, overall he played a very good match. He was the better player today. It was tough for me to, you know — I mean, I had time to get the rhythm, but, you know, he played very aggressive and I couldn’t quite play maybe the way I wanted to.

Q. Were you surprised how aggressive he did come out? It seemed like every shot he was hitting was perfect.

ROGER FEDERER: He doesn’t hit the ball flat and hard. It’s more with a lot of spin, which makes the ball bounce, bounce high, and that’s a struggle I had today. I tried to get out of it, but kind of couldn’t. I thought in the beginning I maybe wasn’t going for my shots enough, where in the end I thought I was hitting the ball better. But I felt the match maybe kind of went his way, and, you know, he hit some really incredible shots. That’s what youngsters do, so… (Laughter).

Q. Are you surprised such a young guy could come at you like that?

ROGER FEDERER: No, no, I’m not surprised. I’ve heard a lot about him and saw some matches of him. I think this is not a big surprise for everybody.

Q. You played a lot of tennis this year already. Do you feel more tired physically or mentally?

ROGER FEDERER: My fatigue right now has got nothing to do with all the matches I’ve played this year. I’ve been sick, and this was my problem for the imperfect preparation for this tournament. Yesterday I was (going) a lot in the wind. Today I played against a player who was just better. That was my problem for this week. Now I have time to rest and prepare for Davis Cup.

Q. Do you feel better physically than yesterday, or do you feel the same?

ROGER FEDERER: Different. I had a lot of pain in my whole body from the match of yesterday because I couldn’t prepare the way I wanted to. But, you know, I didn’t feel as tired as yesterday. But tough to explain. Just, you know, I felt what was missing today was just the reactions and maybe the fight in the corners which were not the same than maybe I’m used to.

Q. What do you think is the biggest weapon Nadal has?

ROGER FEDERER: I think his forehand, you know, is for sure his biggest shot in his game, and his all-court speed.

Q. It wasn’t long ago you were 17. Can you imagine playing with that attitude against the No. 1 player in the world?

ROGER FEDERER: Was it not good?

Q. It was great. His attitude today, I mean. Could you imagine you at 17 years old…

ROGER FEDERER: Well, we have to get a tape when I played Moya, Moya in Marseille when I was 17. But I think, you know, he’s a different character on the court. He relies much more on his fighting spirit, like Lleyton does a little bit, you know, I compare him at his age. So, you know, everyone has their attitude. I think it’s a definite good one to have very much success early in his career.

Q. As the world No. 1, still only 22, does it frighten you that he is almost five years younger than you?

ROGER FEDERER: Well, what can you do (smiling)? I think he’s put a lot of hard work into his game. We all know that, you know, the youngsters from today – because we feel young, but there’s always younger players than you, and, you know, we all remember when we were 17, we already felt we were great players. Then suddenly, you’re around for a few years and you feel like, “Well, now I’ve proven it to everybody I’m a good player.” It’s totally different view of the game, especially I think interesting are the first three years. So I think he’s enjoying his tennis. That’s exactly what he should do. We’ll see how strong he will be in two years. But, I mean, the start to his career so far has been incredible.

Q. Did you sense that he was nervous at all? Did you see that in him?

ROGER FEDERER: No. In the beginning maybe little bit, when you walk on court. I think he’s kind of a little bit shy, you know, on court. He looks at me as an incredible great player, you know. I just felt more of a respect level than nerve.

Q. I guess this win for him tonight must feel, in a way, like it felt for you when you beat Sampras, that sort of major victory, that major breakthrough. How important is that kind of victory to your career?

ROGER FEDERER: For me, it was — I think it’s — I don’t know if you can compare. Mine was in Wimbledon, you know. Definitely this is also big tournament, but, I don’t know, it’s tough because I’m still not much, much older than he is. Sampras, for me, was more of — I think more than I am for him. He’s got different idols, I think (smiling). For me, I think this win counts little bit different for us.

Nadal’s post match quotes:

Q. How does it feel to beat the No. 1 seed?

RAFAEL NADAL: Yes, I’m very happy because I played one of the best matches in my life. Obviously, he didn’t play his best tennis and that’s the reason why I could win. I mean, if he had played his best tennis, I would have had no chance. But that’s what happens in tennis. If a player like me plays at a very, very good level and a top player like Roger doesn’t play his best tennis, I can win. But, sure, I’m really, really happy.

Q. (Inaudible)?

RAFAEL NADAL: Yeah, I played almost perfect tennis today because I was playing inside the court, dominating the exchanges and pressing him so he couldn’t play his game. But one thing I forgot, I served extremely well today, probably I never served like this in my life. That was really the key.

Q. Everybody seems to be afraid to play Federer. You did not look like you were afraid.

RAFAEL NADAL: Yes, I mean, I was afraid that he could win 6-1, 6-1 or 6-1, 6-2 but I was really looking forward to playing this match because I was playing against the No. 1 player in the world. I went on court with a positive attitude, not with the attitude of, “Oh, let’s try and win one game.”

Q. How would you describe your playing style?

RAFAEL NADAL: When I play well, I’m a very aggressive player with a good forehand and I fight very hard on the court.

Q. Technically and tactically, what was the key of the match? How did you approach this match?

RAFAEL NADAL: Well, I knew that the most important point was that I couldn’t let him play his own game, because if he can play his own game, he wins 6-1, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 like it’s happening this year and it’s never happened in tennis before. So from the first point I knew that I had to dictate the exchange for him not to be able to play his game.

Q. How do you organize your day for practicing, for tactics of the matches if you are just on your own?

RAFAEL NADAL: No, I’m here with somebody, I’m here with Jofre Porta, who usually is with Carlos Moya, but Carlos Moya, he’s here with Joan Bosch. I’m here with somebody that helps me. At the same time, before every match, I call my uncle and so we speak about the match.

Q. As you said, you served very well today. Did you change anything on your serve since last year?

RAFAEL NADAL: Yeah, it’s mostly that every match I try to hit my serve harder, and, you know, every match I play, because I think that’s how you can improve yourself; you have to be more aggressive and go for it. That’s the key. Obviously, I know I’ve changed my movement a little bit, but that’s the key, going for it more. Like, for instance, last week, I served at 6-5 against Calleri in the third set, and I didn’t serve hard, I served like slowly, and I lost it. So that’s the key really.

Q. The way you played tonight, it suggests that you’re not the kind of player who’s going to be afraid of playing on any surface, whether it’s hard court, clay, even grass. Is that your goal, to be playing on all the surfaces well?

RAFAEL NADAL: No, I’ve always said that I’m the kind of player that can play well on all surfaces. I played well on grass last year. I played well on hard court outdoors. I play well on clay, obviously, because I’m used to it; I grew up on clay. And maybe I didn’t play well last year indoors, but it was mostly because it was the end of the year and, you know, I was little bit tired. It was my first year, and I was a little bit tired at the end of the year. If you’re not in very good shape physically and mentally, you cannot compete at this level.

Q. Last year when you lost to El Aynaoui at the US Open, you said you didn’t feel you belonged to that top level of tennis and that was the reason why you had lost. What’s the difference now?

RAFAEL NADAL: Definitely, this year I have much more confidence and I know that I can play at that level, that I belong to the higher level of players. Obviously, last year I was winning my matches because I was fighting very hard. This is the same this year, but I’m also winning because I raised my level and I believe I belong to the top.

Q. Do you think you could play that kind of level in a match in a Grand Slam tournament, the best-of-five sets?

RAFAEL NADAL: Well, I’ve only played like Wimbledon and I got to the third round, and then US Open I got to the second round and then in Australia I lost to Hewitt in three sets. So I only need to play Paris, which I haven’t played before, and that’s different there because it’s clay courts. But I think that physically I’m not such a bad player.

Q. This is a result that’s going to reverberate around the world. Do you think your mobile phone will be pretty busy with calls tonight, congratulations?

RAFAEL NADAL: No, not right now because it’s 4 a.m. in Spain so everybody’s sleeping. Tomorrow, the papers won’t have this news. But, yeah, maybe Internet and on the teletext I will start getting some calls.

Nadal would ultimately win the head to head vs Roger 24-16. In their next showdown after this match, one year later in the Miami final of 2005, Federer won in five sets 26 67 76 63 61. So, Rafa won the first four sets he ever played against Federer. Their third match came at 2005 Roland Garros SF and Rafa won in four sets.

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