Having renewed his hammer-nail relationship with Andy Roddick in the Australian Open semis, Roger Federer will reunite with Rafael Nadal in the final. Against Roddick, The Fed looked to be his Slam-winning, graceful self, but the top American is only a contemporary to Roddick, not a challenger. It is Nadal, his chief competitor, who is his rival.
Let us be clear: Federer-Nadal is the best rivalry in sports. No two individuals or teams bring out excellence in their respective battles as frequently as these two, a Swiss Stylist and a Spanish southpaw. When on the court, each standing 6-foot-1 and weighing within a pound of each other (Federer is 187 pounds to Nadal's 188), the two can look each other in the eye, but in the world rankings Federer is craning his neck to catch sight of the top-ranked Nadal. Ever since Nadal spun Federer off the lawns of London at Wimbledon, the matchup has only grown more intriguing. Head-to-head, Nadal also holds serve with a 12-6 lifetime mark against the one many regard to be the greatest player of all time, but the wounds of Wimby are still fresh to the five-time champion Federer. Refusing to cede the high ground -- or the clay courts for that matter -- Federer has proven stubborn in regaining his standing.
Can Federer be the GOAT without beating Nadal? As he attempts to tie Pete Sampras' record of 14 career Grand Slams on Sunday morning, Federer has already reached the rare air of the active greats, the ones who earn their spot atop the sport while still competing. In Nadal, he has a friendly foil who pushes him to exhaust his repertoire of slices and prevents him from resting on winnings.
A weakened and worn Nadal will have to recover quickly to have a chance against Federer Sunday morning, as SI.com's Jon Wertheim observes in today's mailbag. No doubt The Fed must have been smiling with each minute that went by in Nadal's five-hour, five-set epic versus Fernando Verdasco. It will be up to the Spaniard's trainers and coaches to get him in the best physical shape possible. In any form, though, he will be rejuvenated just by looking at Federer on the other side of the net. Will that carry him to victory? No, you can't get by on adrenaline alone. But it will drive him to push Federer. As worthy a foe as Verdasco was, Nadal knows his greatest wins are those over Federer, his rival.
Where do you think Federer-Nadal ranks among the great sports rivalries of today -- and among those in history?