Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have been friends and rivals for almost two decades. They met numerous times on the Tour between 2004 and 2019, battling for the most notable titles and pushing each other to seek improvements.
They have created many great stories over the years, and one of the earliest occurred at Indian Wells 2004. In March that year, the 17-year-old Nadal stunned the newly-promoted world no. 1 Federer in straight sets in Miami, showing his full potential and catching the eyes of the entire tennis world.
Still, their first official match on the Tour came a week earlier at the season’s opening Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells! Nadal and Tommy Robredo defeated Federer and Yves Allegro in three sets to reach the quarter-finals.
The future legends and fearsome rivals exchanged nice words at the net and in the locker room, standing on the court together for the first time. One thing led to another, and Roger invited Rafa to attend his quarter-final singles match against Juan Ignacio Chela.
The Spaniard was more than willing to accept that. He joined Mirka in Roger’s box and acknowledged the Swiss’ performance after he topped the Argentine 6-2, 6-1 in an hour and three minutes.
Rafael Nadal sat alongside Mirka during Roger’s 2004 Indian Wells match.
Federer lost serve once and stole almost 60% of the return points to forge the difference.
The Swiss broke Chela five times from nine chances to control the scoreboard and race into the last four for the first time in the desert. They exchanged breaks in the early stage of the clash, and Roger grabbed another in the fifth game following the rival’s forehand error.
The world’s leading player fired a return winner for another break at 5-2 that delivered the opener for him. The Wimbledon and Australian Open champion scored another break in the second set’s second game, controlling the scoreboard and racing into a 5-0 advantage in no time.
Federer moved over the top with a hold at 15 in game seven to book a place in the semi-final. Getting some first-row tips, Nadal knew how to challenge tired and exhausted Federer in Miami. He defeated him 6-3, 6-3 in 70 minutes to kick off one of the greatest rivalries in the sport with a well-deserved victory, as he did in the doubles in Indian Wells.
A teenager became the youngest player to beat world no. 1 since the start of the ATP Tour in 1990, holding everything under control in his games and keeping the pressure on the other side. Serving at 81%, Rafa never experienced deuce or a break point in his games. He delivered three breaks that carried him over the top and into the last 16 on his Miami debut.