The Rafael Nadal Academy by Movistar opened in Mallorca, Spain, with all the trappings of a lavish tennis center, featuring fitness, education and more than a few trophies that celebrate its eponymous superstar. It is infused with the promise of its creator to help the youth of tomorrow.
But the ambitious vision could only be christened by Nadal and a generous appearance from his great rival and friend, Roger Federer.
“I’ve been around the game 17 years,” Federer said, per ATP World Tour. “I’ve seen a lot of hard workers and inspiring players, but you’ve been the one in my opinion who has been the most inspiring and most influential and made me the player I am today.”
Nadal was equally effusive in sharing the moment with Federer to attend. After more than a decade since they created the “Fedal” tennis rivalry, they have continued to share abiding respect and admiration through their mutual understanding of what it has meant to be human ambassadors.
Their tennis styles differ, but their work ethics and values are one and the same. They understand life is much greater than being perhaps the greatest players to play their sport.
Their camaraderie grows as they slip into the twilight of their careers, but they have left indelible footprints in the sands of yesteryear.
Tennis’ golden era arrived when teenage Nadal showcased his relentless fire to vanquish the mighty Federer in the 2005 French Open semifinals.
Fierce and methodical, the Spaniard introduced a bludgeoning forehand that produced his whirly, devilish topspin. He was architect and gladiator; he could grind through long rallies and matches like he was the spiritual descendant of Bjorn Borg—the original king of clay.
Indeed, Nadal was the lionhearted answer to Federer’s ATP dominance that saw the Swiss dominate the ATP tour with 11 major titles in four calendar years (2004-07).
Federer was the beautiful artist with ballet footwork and a mathematician’s mind. His mastery of shot variety earned the “genius” moniker that set new standards for offensive precision. His liquid-whip forehand, changes of pace and graceful textbook skills would be reproduced in every tennis club around the world. He became the popular hero who linked the past with the future and the standard for all future comparisons.
Fedal was born at the perfect time when social media and streaming technology came of age. Their fanbases could follow them up close as they battled out memorable finals at Wimbledon 2006-08, Australian Open 2009 and four times at Roland Garros from 2006-11. Above all, they witnessed the classy manners and words they heaped upon each other.
Nadal often insisted Federer was the best of them all, perhaps never more succinctly than in his press conference before he would go on to win the 2010 French Open, as archived in the New York Times: “If somebody says I am better than Roger, I think this person don’t know nothing about tennis.”
Before Wimbledon 2015, Federer reiterated his praise for Nadal’s greatness in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour (h/t Rachelle Corpuz of the International Business Times): “…he’s the best ever on clay, hands down, so he has been the toughest and probably the most challenging and fun to play against just because of his character and he’s been unbelievable for the game so I love that rivalry.”
Neither player let his ego interfere with his respect for the other, and even through some of their most excruciating challenges and losses, they forged what Federer referred to as a natural relationship while seeing each other on tour in an interview with GQ Australia (h/t Tennis Tonic)