The Generational Rivalry that Changed Tennis and Defined the Greatest of All Time

The Western and Southern Financial Open in Mason, OH is a Masters 1000 and US Open Series ATP and WTA tournament. In other words, “Cincy Tennis,” as it has been dubbed, is the largest tennis tournament in the country behind the US Open. It hosts some of the greatest tennis players in the world.

For the past 10 years, my family has headed down to Cincinnati for a spectacular showing of tennis and an equally spectacular helping of the local chili. It was on Court 9 where my brother and I were the only people in the stands during an epic three-set match between Stanislas Wawrinka (current world #3) and Tommy Robredo (highest world ranking #16). It was at the food court where we casually ate lunch with Chair Umpire Fergus Murphy. Best of all, it was on Center Court where I stood in the presence of the two greatest male tennis players of all time: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Nadal (left) and Federer (right).

Cincy tennis is a part of me; it’s where I fell in love with the sport and where I fell in love with the culture. However, it would be a lie to say that the two greatest tennis players of all time did not have a hand in making me fall in love with tennis each time they stepped out onto the court.

Roger Federer:                                            Rafael Nadal:

Age: 35                                                              Age: 30
Country: Switzerland                            Country: Spain
Turned Pro: 1998                                        Turned Pro: 2001
Career Record: 1087-245                      Career Record: 814-176
Career Titles: 89                                         Career Titles: 69
Grand Slam Titles: 18                             Grand Slam Titles: 14

Comparing the basic statistics side by side, it seems obvious that Federer is the greatest player of all time. No other male player in the history of the sport has won 18 Grand Slam Titles. And yet, it is Rafael Nadal who holds the record for most Roland Garros titles, completed a Career Grand Slam, and won two Olympic gold medals. And since first playing each other in 2004, Rafa leads the head-to-head 9-3 in Grand Slams and 21-13 overall.

In the past three years, both players have struggled with injury and have fallen from former glory. Today, Federer is ranked 9 in the world and Nadal is ranked 6.

On January 29, 2017, the Former World No. 1s took to Rod Laver Arena for the finals of the Australian Open. Seeded 17 and 9 respectively, nobody expected either Federer or Nadal to make it to the final. Novak Djokavic (current world #2) and Andy Murray (current world #1) both lost early, and Federer and Nadal rose to the challenge. They easily defeated some of today’s top players: Milos Raonic (current world #4), Kei Nishikori (current world #5) and Grigor Dimitrov (current world #12).


In the end, at the age of 35 (an anomaly among high-level professional tennis players), it was Federer who took home the trophy, defeating his greatest rival 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3. Although Federer won the title, again looking closely at the statistics, it is surprising to see that Rafa has unimaginable stats for someone who lost the match.

Statistics acquired from IBM Slamtracker.

Many said that the winner of this match would be solidified as the greatest tennis player of all time, and yet the statistics still question this.

So who is the greatest player of all time? The one with the most titles or the one with the lead in the head-to-head and the Career Grand Slam?

My opinion: Rafa is the greatest clay court player of all time but the true answer to this question was solidified years ago in Mason, Ohio the first time I ever watched Federer hit a backhand winner on center court all those years ago.

Federer celebrating his victory over Nadal in the 2017 Australian Open Final.

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