Federer vs Nadal: A remarkably friendly rivalry

The duo are not like the Senna-Prost rivalry from Formula 1

Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, tennis, rivalry

UAE Royals's Roger Federer, left and Indian Aces's Rafael Nadal greet each other during the International Premier Tennis League in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. (AP Photo /Tsering Topgyal)

Perhaps for the last time, men's tennis will go down a live 2000s nostalgia trip on Sunday when Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer reunite in the final of a Grand Slam.

It's been six years since the two most decorated tennis players of all time did battle at this level of competition.

In the intervening years, age in Federer's case and injuries in Nadal's have seen them slip of their pedestals as Andy Murray and in particular, Novak Djokovic have flown the flag for tennis' Big Four.

Murray and Djokovic's rivalry is one built on mutual respect. But the two knew each other as juniors.

For Federer and Nadal, it was different. When the Spaniard began to truly make his mark on the elite level, Federer was the king of the sport and ruled supreme.

When Nadal won his first of nine French Opens in 2005, the Swiss maestro had already amassed four Grand Slam titles. Nadal wouldn't win a Grand Slam away from the clay at Rolland Garros until 2008 by which time even more majors had ended up in Federer's overflowing trophy cabinet.

Rafael Nadal of Spain, right, is congratulated by Roger Federer of Switzerland at the net after Nadal won their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

But it's that period between 2008 and 2012 that the rivalry peaked and the two became the pre-eminent sporting rivalry of our time. In a way, it would have been understandable if Federer resented the emerging threat.

But the empahsis is on the word "sporting".

If you take Formula 1 for example, the rivalry between one-time team-mates Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost as still the heated duopoly raised to diminish every other battle to have brewed since the dawn of the '90s.

There was no love lost between Senna and Prost in the heat of battle.

Federer and Nadal? Much different. Take this blooper reel for example.

That was all the way back in December 2010 at the height of their rivalry and clearly they were at ease in each other's company.

Federer himself has suggested that their rivalry spawned a friendship rather than fuelling hatred.

"In the past, maybe there have been much tougher and harsher rivalries. People wouldn't talk to each other, they didn't like each other and they needed to hate each other to actually perform well against each other. But it doesn't need to be that way," he once told CNN when discussing his cordial relationship with Nadal.

Of course, it doesn't need to be "that way" even though a mutual dislike can make a rivalry even more compelling for neutral observers.

But the fact that Federer and Nadal have managed to capture the imagination through excellence rather than subplots makes their rivalry even more remarkable than normal.