That was the comment as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal walked into the field for their third-round game in Miami 16 years ago. There was a sense of anticipation. Federer was the top favorite and No. 1 in the FedEx ATP ranking and his opponent, Nadal, was No. 34 in the world at the age of 17.
“He has already proven himself at his age, to be classified as good as him. I think he has already proven to be a great player, “said Federer before the match. “He doesn’t need to beat all of these top players just to show them that in three years he can be No. 1 in the world and win Grand Slam tournaments. I think it only needs time. “
The pair actually competed in doubles at the previous event, with Indian Wells, Nadal and Tommy Robredo beating Federer and Yves Allegro in straight sets. But the Swiss was still the favorite, even though he knew he would face a big challenge.
“I think he put a lot of work into his game,” said Federer. “I think he likes his tennis. That’s exactly what he should do. We will see how strong he will be in two years. But the start of his career so far has been incredible. “
Nadal had played big games before, including a third-round clash with Lleyton Hewitt in the third round of this year’s Australian Open. Federer felt no nerve from the Spaniard.
“At first maybe a little, when you walk on the court. I think he’s a little shy on the court. He considers me an incredible and great player, “said Federer. “I felt more respectful than nervous. “
Nadal has shown that he is not afraid to take the match against the most experienced Federer. The left-hander used his heavy forehand to prevent the seed from attacking, putting more pressure on Federer to play more aggressively from less advantageous positions, which resulted in errors at key moments.
Nadal jumped on every opportunity to strike his cross forehand on Federer’s backhand at Crandon Park. The 17-year-old had no break points, winning 75% of his serve points in a 6-3, 6-3 triumph over Federer, sealing his wrath after just 70 minutes.
“I’m very happy because I played one of the best games of my life. Obviously, he didn’t play his best tennis and that’s why I was able to win, “said Nadal. “If he had played his best tennis, I would not have had a 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 does not play his best tennis, I can win. “
Nadal felt he had to remove Federer from his game, and that is exactly what he did, allowing the Swiss to win only 62% of his first serve points, while the Spaniard won 79% of points on its own first delivery.
“I played almost perfect tennis today because I was playing inside the field, dominating the trade and pressing him so he couldn’t play his game,” said Nadal. “I have served very well today, probably I have never served like this in my life. It was really the key. “
Federer praised Nadal before stepping onto the pitch, so there was not a moment during the match when he was surprised by his opponent.
” I’m not surprised. I have heard a lot about him and I have seen matches from him, “said Federer. “I don’t think it’s a big surprise for everyone. “
It only took a game for Federer to recognize a pattern in their ATP Head2Head series that would prove decisive for the years to come.
“He doesn’t hit the ball flat and hard. It’s more with a lot of spin, which makes the ball bounce, high, and it’s a fight I’ve had today. I tried to get out of it, but it is not possible, “said Federer. “I thought at first that I might not be enough for my shots, while at the end I thought I was hitting the ball better. But I felt like the game might have gone his way, and he had some really incredible shots. “
Federer and Nadal have since played 40 times on tour, the Spaniard leading their series 24-16. From their five-set final in Miami the following year to the 2008 Wimbledon Championship game and many more epics, they have continued to create a legendary rivalry that no one will soon forget.