Last updated: March 28, 2022
It was 18 years ago Friday that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal began their legendary rivalry on the ATP World Tour. The two met for the first time in the Miami third round, when Rafa was just 17 years old and Roger was the top-ranked player in the world. That night Rafa stunned Roger, dismantling him 6-3, 6-3 in just 69 minutes. It was the first of Rafa’s victories over Federer in 40 meetings. Their record now stands at 24-16, with Rafa in the lead.
Take a visual journey with us through 18 years of Fedal, and be sure to read the transcript of the very first post-Fedal victory interview that Rafa gave, way back in 2004. Rafa’s innocence, humbleness, and genius is on full display. See what he has to say about how he won the match, and about Roger. (Bonus: He talks about how he’s never played in the French Open!)
Here’s to a great pair. Happy birthday, Fedal!
March 28, 2004, Miami, Florida
THE MODERATOR: If you have questions in English for Rafael, he’ll answer in Spanish and I’ll translate for him.
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.
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.
Q. You lost last year to Gonzalez, so what do you think about that match and tomorrow’s match?
RAFAEL NADAL: Yeah, sure, I lost against him and it was in Stuttgart. I thought I played a good match, one of the best matches up to that point in my career. It was the first time that I played against somebody who hit the ball so hard. He was doing everything. I was just running around. I played well to win the second set, and then I lost in three sets. But I think tomorrow is going to be different because now I’m used to these kind of players.
Q. Your win today and Monaco’s win over Guga yesterday were the same matches – you showed you’re young players, hitting the ball very hard and dominating the other players. Is that the tennis of the future, and if your style of play doesn’t work, do you have anything else to fall back on?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, I don’t think that Monaco or I discovered the world, because that’s actually the way tennis players are playing right now, like Ferrero, Moya, Federer, Safin, you know, hitting the ball very hard. I’m particularly happy for Monaco because he’s played well this year, especially in Buenos Aires and Brazil and here. I’ve known him quite well because he was training in Spain, so I’ve known him since the time he was playing futures in Spain.
Q. How important was it for you to play Davis Cup this year? How did it help you believe you are part of the top players?
RAFAEL NADAL: Yeah, it’s true. Davis Cup was one of the best, if not the best experience so far. I was there, I lost my first two points, and then I won the last and it was just unbelievable. Obviously, now we have this match coming up in Mallorca. I would like to play again. But in Spain we have a lot of good players – Ferrero, Moya, who are ahead of me. I’m hoping to play maybe in the doubles, but the team is going to be announced on Tuesday.
End of FastScripts
Photos: Getty Images, EFE, AP, Tumblr/Fedal, via Pinterest/Fedal, and fanpop.com