In his SI.com mailbag this week, Jon Wertheim was asked to rank the best matchups among the ATP Big Four of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. Here’s how I would answer the question:
1. Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer
Head-to-head: Nadal leads 23-10
First match: 2004
Number of finals: 20
Signature match: 2008 Wimbledon final; Nadal won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7
I still consider this to be tennis’ most compelling rivalry despite Nadal’s decided head-to-head advantage, which includes a five-match winning streak and 15 victories in the last 19 meetings. Nadal-Federer features the most distinct contrast of styles among the Big Four matchups, and they’ve contested 20 finals, including eight at Grand Slam tournaments, over the last 10 years. Just imagine how different their careers would be without the other serving as a roadblock. Nadal has won nine of their 11 matches at majors; it’s conceivable that Federer might have completed the Grand Slam — whether calendar or career — a few times over and pushed the Slam record from 17 to well over 20 without the presence of Nadal.