Roger Federer Vs. Rafael Nadal: Previewing, Predicting Australian Open 2012 Semifinal

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 05: (L to R) Finalists Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland pose for the cameras prior to the men’s singles final match between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland on day fifteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 2011 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal meet for the 27th time in the 2012 Australian Open semifinals. Here is a look at the biggest, most intense moments in one of sport's greatest rivalries.

Tennis fans, and even sports fans in general, have been incredibly spoiled in recent years. It should be enough that two of the sport's greatest players -- Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal -- found their peaks reasonably close to each other, and that Federer has managed to maintain a very high level of play past his prime. It should be enough that we have had the pleasure of watching these two men play 26 times on tour (and countless other times in exhibitions). But it goes beyond that.

I overuse the term "Styles make fights," but it truly does apply here. Federer's mastery of artistic geometry, the way he creates angles for shots that didn't exist, the way his defense and offense are almost indistinguishable from each other ... they match up perfectly with Nadal's speed and brute force. The two styles combine to make perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing combination in sports. That they only tend to play in tournament finals only adds to the intensity of what has become one of sport's great rivalries. And that the rivalry has played out in different acts makes it all the more unusual and appealing.

Act I: Nadal Asserts Himself (2004-2006). Nadal won six of the first seven tour meetings between the two, including two wins at the French Open. In all, he wins the first four meetings on clay and two of three on hard courts.

Act II: Federer's Response (2006-2007). Federer wins five of the next seven. He wins the 2006 and 2007 Wimbledon finals. He sweeps on both grass and hard courts, and even manages to knock Nadal off once on clay (Hamburg 2007). At this point, he has established himself as perhaps the greatest player in the sport's history, while Nadal is still relegated mostly to clay court titles.

Act III: Year Of Rafa (2008). Nadal wins all four of their meetings in 2008, including a ridiculously dominant performance at the French Open (6-1, 6-3, 6-0) and, of course, the win at Wimbledon, which is considered quite possibly the greatest match of all-time. He takes the 2009 Australian Open finals in five sets as well.

Act IV: Back And Forth (2009-present). As Nadal begins to fight more injuries, Federer remains remarkably steady. Nadal has won four of the last six matches, but Federer stole another clay court win (Madrid 2009), and the two have nearly split the last 18 sets (Nadal 10, Federer 8).

With so much history between the two, writing a simple preview seems a bit unnecessary. Instead, let's look at 12 classic matches in the series, three from each Act above. The accompanying video should give you a) all the preview you could need and b) plenty of motivation to record and/or stay up to watch a match that will begin in the middle of the night here in the states.

Act I: Nadal Asserts Himself

Meeting No. 1: Miami 2004

Stakes: ATP Masters Series Round of 32
Outcome: Nadal wins, 6-3, 6-3

This was Federer's first exposure to a style that countered his quite well.

Meeting No. 2: Miami 2005

Stakes: ATP Masters Series Finals
Outcome: Federer wins, 2-6, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-1

In their first of many five-set classics, Federer takes what will be his only win in Act I of the series. The match includes 12 service breaks.

Meeting No. 7: French Open 2006

Stakes: French Open Finals
Outcome: Nadal wins, 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6

Federer asserts himself in their second meeting at Roland Garros, but Nadal responds.

Act II: Federer's Response

Meeting No. 8: Wimbledon 2006

Stakes: Wimbledon Finals
Outcome: Federer wins, 6-0, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 6-3

Their first meeting on grass goes to Federer, but with a solid challenge (after the first set).

Meeting No. 12: French Open 2007

Stakes: French Open Finals
Outcome: Nadal wins, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4

Nadal runs his record at Roland Garros to 3-0 versus Federer and 21-0 overall.

Meeting No. 13: Wimbledon 2007

Stakes: Wimbledon Finals
Outcome: Federer wins, 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-2

Each time they played on grass, Nadal got closer and closer.

Act III: Year Of Rafa

Meeting No. 17: French Open 2008

Stakes: French Open Finals
Outcome: Nadal wins, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0

Rafa at his finest. Federer had no answer.

Meeting No. 18: Wimbledon 2008

Stakes: Wimbledon Finals
Outcome: Nadal wins, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7

Multiple people have posted the entire match on YouTube, but here is the unbelievable fourth-set tie-break.

There are plenty of candidates for Best Match Ever, but I can unequivocally say that this is the best match I've ever watched live.

Meeting No. 19: Australian Open 2009

Stakes: Australian Open Finals
Outcome: Nadal wins, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2

Their only match in Melbourne is yet another doozy, with Nadal finally wearing Fed out in the fifth.

Act IV: Back And Forth

Meeting No. 20: Madrid 2009

Stakes: ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Finals
Outcome: Federer wins, 6-4, 6-4

Nadal began to suffer from tendonitis in both knees as a result of his incredibly physical, grueling style of play. At this point, Federer was able to reassert himself in what had been a one-sided rivalry.

Meeting No. 25: French Open 2011

Stakes: French Open Finals
Outcome: Nadal wins, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1

Honestly, this might be the best match Federer has ever played on clay. And Nadal simply had an answer for everything.

Meeting No. 26: London 2011

Stakes: ATP World Tour Finals, Round Robin Play
Outcome: Federer wins, 6-3, 6-0

In the last match in the series until today, Federer showed that his serve is better than ever, and Nadal showed that lingering questions about his form and conditioning were legitimate.

For just the seventh time, Federer and Nadal meet before the finals of a tournament. Federer leads the series, 5-4, on hard courts, but Nadal won their only match at the Australian Open. No matter what the result, this is simply must-watch tennis if ever such a thing existed. So watch it.

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