The four most meaningful matches between tennis' Big Three
Tennis’ Big Three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer have defined success in the sport’s scene. All three of these players have played against one another over the years across different events. Let’s talk about the biggest matches between them.
The Big Three is the most influential trio in the Open era. They have inspired so many young players to reach the pinnacle of the sport. When you watch the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, and Jannik Sinner, you can see the Big Three’s influence on them.
All members of the Big Three have spent their time atop the ATP Tour. They are all involved in the greatest tennis player of all-time debate which is a testament to their skillset. They have traded their grip on the top spot. These matches hold great weight and are filled with exciting moments.
Wimbledon 2008 Final (Fed vs Rafa)
More than a decade has passed since the 2008 Wimbledon final between Fed and Rafa but it is still recognized as one of the most prolific matches of all time. Rafa lost in both the 2006 and 2007 editions of the event but 2008 was his true coming-out party. Rafa proved himself as a top ATP Tour star.
This was the turning point in the rivalry between Fed and Rafa as the latter proved that he can take over the Tour. The Spaniard is one of the most decorated players in the world and the 2008 final in Wimbledon was the push that he needed to enter the top tier of tennis.
This was a match for the ages with an absurd scoreline of 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), and 9-7. It lasted for four hours and 48 minutes and then the weather delayed it to extend the total of the match’s runtime to seven hours. Nadal named this as his top Wimbledon moment.
Legendary commentator and former player Andrew Castle talked about why this match was such a meaningful moment in tennis history.
He said, ‘That match changed the game. The gold standard of tennis improved in one match. They pushed each other to mad limits. I remember it was Tim Henman’s first Wimbledon final as a commentator. We both sat there in the commentary box in shock and awe’.
Happy Slam 2017 Final (Fed vs Rafa)
Fed and Rafa have had legendary matches including the previous entry. However, the Happy Slam final in 2017 was a dynamic change from the Wimbledon final nine years prior. At the time, Rafa had a 23-11 head-to-head lead over Fed. The Spaniard was the favourite heading into the Happy Slam final but Fed should not have been counted out.
The GOAT debate was between Fed and Rafa and the Spaniard was gaining ground on the Swiss star. The rivalry was still friendly but the competitive fire was hotter than ever. Fed managed to pull off a fantastic comeback to win the match and the trophy.
Prominent pundit Jon Wertheim talked about how this match meant in the long run. He said, ‘The fifth set of the Federer/Nadal 2017 Happy Slam—a 42-minute interregnum—will have consequences on tennis history that will echo for decades’.
It is interesting to note that this match is not as famous as the Wimbledon final but its impact will get bigger especially since Fed and Rafa will retire someday.
Wimbledon 2019 Final (Nole vs Fed)
Fed had a significant lead in the Grand Slam race and he was looking to extend his lead by beating Nole. He even had two match points against the Serbian but Nole was not to be denied. He proved that he was the best player in the world at the time.
It would’ve been a significant win for Fed because he could have been the oldest Grand Slam winner in a century but it was not meant to be. Nole came back from a tough deficit and rode the wave of momentum to the win. Nole is competing for the GOAT tag alongside the two stars and there is a likelihood that the Serbian can overtake his two peers.
While it was a rough result, Fed was pleased with his performance as he proved that his age is not an issue when it comes to performing at the top tier. He said, ‘It was a great match. It was long. It had everything. I had my chances. So did he. I thought we played some great tennis. In a way, I’m very happy with my performance, as well. But Novak, it’s great. Congratulations, man. That was crazy. Well done’.
This was a meaningful match in the long run because Nole is on track to become the best player of all time as well. While Fed has long been considered as the likely GOAT, Nole’s win cemented his legacy.
French Open 2021 semifinal (Nole vs Rafa)
The Grand Slam race between the Big Three has raged on over the past few years. While Fed had an overwhelming lead, Rafa and Nole managed to catch up. Rafa was set to take over and exceed Fed’s 20 titles. With this French Open win, Nole inched closer to both of his rivals. This furthered the debate between all three players because the trophies account for a large chunk of arguments in the past.
While Fed is still considered the greatest player of the Big Three by many pundits and fans, Nole and Rafa have caught up. In the 2021 French Open final, most fans were favouring Rafa to win especially since he is the specialist in the event. Nole managed to give Rafa his third-ever loss at the event. The Serbian then beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final to take his tally to 19 titles. With the Wimbledon win later on in 2021, Nole equalled the Slam tally of his fellow Big Three members.
The debate rages on for these three players. They have done their best over the years but there will never be a conclusive answer since it’s a subjective debate.
Words: Cholo Martin