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Beyond the Baseline

Best moments from Nadal-Federer rivalry

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will meet for the 26th time on Tuesday at the O2 Arena in London, where they will both play their second round-robin matches in the ATP World Tour Finals. So now seems as good a time as any to review their incredible seven-year rivalry, which has seen them battle for nine Grand Slam titles, three year-end championships and 12 Masters shields.

It's been a golden age for tennis fans, who have had the luxury to watch two of the greatest men to ever play the game clash time after time on the biggest of stages when the stakes are at their highest. Of their 25 career meetings, 24 have been in semifinals or finals. That's a remarkable testament to their ability to rise above the rest of the field and dominate.

Let's look at some of the key moments that make this rivalry historic:

2004, Miami: A fresh-faced 17-year-old Nadal, looking very much like a Carlos Moya clone, dressed in 3/4-length capris and bronze biceps bulging from his sleeveless Nike shirts, announced his arrival to the world stage with a 69-minute, 6-3, 6-3 thrashing of the world No. 1 in their first matchup. Federer was coming off a win at the Australian Open and, with a victory in Indian Wells, was attempting to complete the Indian Wells/Miami double. With his heavy topspin forehand, the likes of which had never been seen in the game, the Spaniard made a splash in a major way.

*****

2005, Roland Garros: Nadal may have been only No. 5 in the world at the time, but to the extent there was a "Special One" on clay, he was the child prodigy. He won back-to-back-to-back titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome and headed into his first French Open as the man to beat. Federer was able to take a set off Rafa in the semifinals, but the Spaniard kept belting that forehand deep into Federer's backhand, exploiting what would come to be the great mismatch that would define their rivalry. Nadal prevailed 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, and went on to win the title. Check out highlights here.

*****

2006, Monte Carlo, Rome, Roland Garros: By now, Nadal had secured the No. 2 ranking and the two top dogs met in three straight finals during the European clay season. Federer was streaking, coming off an Australian Open title and back-to-back wins at Indian Wells and Miami. Once again, Nadal was ruthless in his dominance on clay. He fought off Federer in a 3-hour, 49-minute duel in Monte Carlo, rallying from 0-3 in the final tiebreak. Three weeks later the two battled for more than five hours, with Nadal saving two match points and surviving 6-7 (0), 7-6 (5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (5) in Rome. Then they faced off weeks later in the French Open final. It was Federer's first Roland Garros final and he was looking to become the first player since Rod Laver Andre Agassi to complete the career Grand Slam. Despite racing to a 5-0 lead, Federer had no answers for Nadal's relentless attack on his backhand. Nadal defended his title with a 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory.

*****

2006, Wimbledon: If Rafa was the King of Clay, than Roger was the Gladiator on Grass. Nadal had simply not been able to master the pace and bounce on the Wimbledon greens and Federer was riding a 47-match winning streak on the stuff. To the extent Nadal had built momentum through the clay season, Federer snuffed it out, beating Rafa in the Spaniard's first Wimbledon final 6-0, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 6-3 . It was Federer's fourth straight Wimbledon crown.

*****

2007, Hamburg: Nike's slogan may be "Just Do It," but Federer proved the Adidas slogan "Impossible is Nothing" in Hamburg. After two years of playing second fiddle to Nadal on clay, Federer finally broke through with a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 win in the finals. Federer broke Nadal's 81-match winning streak on clay and stopped him from a historic sweep of the clay Masters titles. The success wouldn't last for long, as Nadal would knock him off on his way to a third Roland Garros title. But the victory proved that Federer could do it, and the gap between the two on Nadal's favorite surface seemed to be closing.

*****

2007, Wimbledon: To the extent Federer took a step closer to solving the Rafa Riddle on clay, Nadal was still stonewalled on grass. The Spaniard put together his best performance on grass and still fell to Federer in the final 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-2. Federer matched Bjorn Borg's record of five consecutive Wimbledon titles, while Nadal was reduced to tears in the locker room.

*****

2008 Wimbledon: Regarded by many as the greatest match of all time, this 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 epic in favor of Nadal served as a turning point in the rivalry. Everything about the match felt historic, from the stops and starts due to rain to the twilight finish to, oh, yes, the point-by-point quality that left one slack-jawed and exhausted. Just when you didn't think these two men could top their shotmaking, they proved you wrong.

Nadal couldn't make good on two match points in the fourth-set tiebreaker, and it looked as though the Spaniard had missed his shot. But after a 30-minute rain delay in the fifth set (and a little pep talk from Uncle Toni), Nadal settled himself and finally converted on his fourth match point. With that, Nadal became the first man since Borg to complete the "Channel Slam" (capturing both Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same season) and it seemed to give him confidence in his ability to win on faster surfaces.

*****

2009 Australian Open: Nadal was not supposed to win this match. Less than 48 hours before the final he had to spend more than five hours outlasting Fernando Verdasco in a grueling semifinal. Federer, meanwhile, had cruised to the final, with a relatively easy win over Andy Roddick in the semifinal. But Nadal was game, and though Federer was able to secure the fourth set to force a fifth, Nadal had worn him down mentally. Rafa cruised in the final set to a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2 win, becoming the first Spaniard to win the Australian Open. The outcome left the Swiss in tears and led to one of the rivals' most poignant moments, as Nadal sought to comfort Federer through his disappointment.

*****

2010 World Tour Finals: Federer had lost six of his last seven matches against Nadal entering the final in London, and Rafa had recently won the U.S. Open to complete the career Slam and collect his third consecutive major title. But with new coach Paul Annacone by his side, Federer came out firing, taking the game at Rafa and forcing the action. With a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory, Federer improved to 3-0 against Nadal at the indoor year-end championships, a streak he'll carry into Tuesday's match.

*****

What's your favorite Federer-Nadal moment? Sound off in the comments to let us know.
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