(March 23, 2012) – Well, it’s Friday (thank god), and what that means is that it’s time for another edition of Flashback Friday. At Tennis Now we like to stay up with everything that’s current in the world of tennis, but out of respect for the past we also like to dip back into the archives in order to remember—and honor—the game’s storied past.
Since the tour is in Miami this week and next, we figured, what better time to look at a very historical moment that occurred in Miami, some eight years ago.
Turn your clocks back to 2004 when a young long-haired, yet-to-be-capri-panted Spaniard named Nadal was only 17, had a 14-7 record on the year that included losses to No. 54-ranked Dominik Hrbaty and No. 107-ranked Mario Ancic, and was still without a title on the ATP tour.
Who was he facing in the third round (yes, that’s right, I said third round) of Miami? An electrifying 22-year-old Swiss—hot off the heels of his first two Grand Slam titles (2003 Wimbledon, d. Philippoussis, 2004 Australian Open, d. Safin)—who had risen to the No. 1 ranking on February 2nd for the first time.
What would transpire would be surprisingly good. Not just in terms of who won and lost the match, but the type of tennis that was played, and the way that each player seemed to bring his tennis to a higher level during the battle.
Federer spoke a bit about the historical affair yesterday during a press conference in Miami.
“You don't just come out and beat world No. 1 four and four,” said Federer. (The score was actually 6-3, 6-3 in favor of Nadal, but who’s counting, besides millions of fans?) “It just doesn't happen. You have to have something special to it. Of course he was still a clay‑court player at that point, but that was hard court.”
True, Rafa was considered a clay-court specialist at the time, and with a ranking of 34, he certainly wasn’t a sure thing. Nobody had any idea that he’d be that good (he was 14-11 in 2003, albeit at a very young age), but after this stunning upset in Miami, it was clear that Rafa could be a nemesis on any surface.
“I came with a sunstroke from Indian Wells, fine,” said Federer of his first close encounter with a player of the Rafa kind, “but I was starting to feel better and I was like ‑‑ didn't quite understand what just quite happened.”
“But I knew he was very good, so I didn't underestimate him in any way, shape, or form. He just got me. So that was impressive.”
Impressive indeed. Cue this video to the :36 mark and you can get an idea of just how long it took for Rafa to announce to Federer that he’d have to be more than just No. 1 in the world to beat him. He’d have to be indefatigable, and near perfect.
Watching a 17-year-old Nadal sprinting from sideline to sideline to retrieve Federer’s wickedly angled drives must have been a shock at the time. Now, it’s par for the course.
Watching Federer cunningly craft solutions like he did at the 2:23 mark, blocking a return then threading an impossibly good slice backhand pass that eluded Nadal’s racquet, is equally impressive.
This is the type of tennis that each has had to play in order to defeat the other. And it’s probably the reason that each has developed their game to the extent that they have—because in order to beat their rival, they had to.
What else can I say? Miami will always be special because it is the place where the rivalry began. Eight years later, Federer-Nadal has not lost one iota of its appeal.
Before you turn your attention back to today’s action in Miami (and a possible final between Federer and Nadal), take a little trip down memory lane with us. Enjoy 10 minutes of highlights from the match that started us down this wild road.
It’s flashback Friday, you deserve it.