Roger Federer contested many great matches with his rival and friend Rafael Nadal over the years but there was one that was cetainly stranger than most. The contrast in styles between the two optimised their historic rivalry and together they produced some of the most scintillating and memorable moments in the history of sport.
But back in 2007, the pair participated in one of the most unique matches in the sport as they contested an exhibition match with a court consisting of half grass and half clay. The contest was titled the Battle of Surfaces and took place in the capital city of Nadal’s home island, Palma de Mallorca, in front of a home crowd at Palma Arena.
The court cost $1.63 million (£1.4 million) to make and took 19 days to prepare. At the time, Federer had won 48 straight matches on grass courts, going 5 straight years undefeated on grass, while Nadal had 72 straight wins on clay, going 3 straight years undefeated on clay.
Before the match, Federer said: “We are both looking forward to this absolutely new event. The idea really appeals to me as we both dominate one of the surfaces. Rafa holds the record of 72 victories in series on clay and I have not been defeated on grass since 48 matches. It’ll be fun to find out what it’s like to play on a court with mixed surfaces! And it ought to be interesting to see who chooses the better tactic.
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“People have been talking about this event for quite a while. Now it’s coming up pretty soon already and I like the fact that the stadium – which is very nice, by the way – is located on Majorca, Rafa’s home. He has been to Basel, after all, and now I’ve got the opportunity to play at his place for once.” The top two players in the world at the time produced an exciting match which the Spaniard won 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(10).
Post match Nadal said: “It has been a nice experience, although before the match I thought it would be a disaster because I felt it would be very difficult for me to adapt to the court.” The 36-year-old shared some kind words regarding his long-time colleague following the announcement of his retirement from the game.
“Dear Roger, my friend and rival,” he wrote on social media. “I wish this day would have never come. It’s a sad day for me personally and for sports around the world. It’s been a pleasure but also an honour and privilege to share all these years with you, living so many amazing moments on and off the court.”
And the Spaniard hinted that the pair’s story together would extend beyond their respective on-court careers. “We will have many more moments to share together in the future,” he continued. “There are still lots of things to do together, we know that. For now, I truly wish you all the happiness with your wife, Mirka, your kids, your family and enjoy what’s ahead of you. I’ll see you in London at the Laver Cup.”
Both players will meet at the Laver Cup this weekend which will mark the final tournament of Federer’s illustrious career. However, the Swiss Maestro may say goodbye to the sport without a final on-court swan song as his lingering knee issue has placed the Swiss legend’s participation in doubt.
Federer’s fitness trainer Pierre Paganini suggested the Swiss icon may tragically miss the event with as he continues to rehabilitate his knee. “He will decide at the last moment,” Paganini told Switzerland’s Blick. “He’s trained to have as much information as possible about whether it is a good idea or not.”