Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer compared to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi by legendary coach

Ewan West
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup

Toni Nadal has likened the iconic tennis rivalry shared by his nephew Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer, to the dynamic between football legends Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. 

The renowned coach claimed Nadal is comparable to Ronaldo, while Federer is like Messi, but feels there are “more differences” between the football icons than the tennis greats.

Federer and Nadal, who faced off 40 times over a 15-year period from 2004 to 2019, formed one of tennis’ greatest ever rivalries. Nadal holds a 24-16 advantage, having previously held 23-10 and 6-1 leads, while Federer won six of the pair’s last seven encounters.

The Spaniard has won 22 Grand Slam singles titles, with his most recent coming at the 2022 French Open, while Federer — who retired in 2022 — won his 20th and final major at the 2018 Australian Open. The duo shared the court as a doubles team for Federer’s final match at the 2022 Laver Cup in London.

Ronaldo and Messi, who are widely regarded as two of the greatest footballers in history, were the leading stars in the sport throughout the 2010s decade. At their peaks, Ronaldo and Messi starred for Spanish giants and fierce rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.

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In an interview with Super Deportivo Radio, Toni Nadal explained why he feels the two sporting rivalries are comparable, while arguing there is a key difference.

“It is comparable with the Nadal-Federer rivalry, only that Rafa can do the same thing that Federer does, while Cristiano cannot do what Messi does,” said the Mallorcan.

“It is comparable in duration. From Messi to Cristiano there are more differences than from Rafael to Federer. Being Cristiano an excellent footballer, I think Messi has almost no comparison with anyone.

“Federer is an incredible player for me. What he has done and achieved. What I saw him do on a tennis court I have not seen anyone do. We could say that Federer has been Messi. Rafael has a different, but very high, talent. He is probably the player who has hit the best in a bad position.

“It is true that my nephew does not have the technical excellence or elegance that Federer may have, but Rafael does the same thing that Federer does, although Cristiano cannot do the same thing that Messi does.

“Cristiano is very good, but he does not have the ability to do the dribbles that he did or that Messi has done throughout his career. In the case of my nephew, in a different way, he is able to do the shots that Federer does.

“Today we live in a world where it is very difficult to tell people the reality. Frustration comes from a lack of spirit, an exaggerated search for immediacy and not facing reality, and a personal overvaluation.

“Messi lost five Ballon d’Ors with Cristiano Ronaldo. The best in history also had setbacks, but the difference is that Messi’s frustration did not prevent him from advancing in his career.”

Toni Nadal coached his nephew Rafael Nadal from his childhood until 2017, helping him win 16 of his 22 Grand Slam titles. He is the director of the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca and has also been working with ATP player Felix Auger-Aliassime since 2021.

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