The Image of a Tennis Partnership

Behind the ‘raw’ photo of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal that captures their enduring friendship, their mutual admiration, and the unbridled power of their tennis partnership is a picture that no photographer would take lightly.

It shows Federer and Nadal embracing on the cusp of the 2014 Australian Open final, their bodies in close proximity, their bodies joined to one another. As the image spreads across the world, it’s likely to be a meme. It will be photoshopped. It will be retouched. It will probably be edited out, but the image, as it has come to be known, is both the image of a friendship, and the image of a tennis partnership.

It was during this summer’s Wimbledon, in their third Grand Slam final, that the two first met. It was in this Grand Slam final, in turn, that they became the best of friends. And the image of a tennis partnership should be, like most images, seen in the context of the person who created it.

When Federer first arrived at Wimbledon in 1999, he was still just a teenager. He was on the road to becoming the best player in the world, still toiling away as a wildcard player on the tour who won a grand total of five singles titles in a 15-year career. With the exception of the Wimbledon doubles final that came about as a result of this friendship, Federer was not ranked on the ATP World Tour until the following year.

When Nadal met him, it was at the Australian Open, on Nadal’s path to becoming the best player in the world. Nadal was at Wimbledon for the first time, and he was just 16. He was already one of the most dominant players on the tour, with eight singles titles, including the 2003 Australian Open, and two major titles in Madrid in 2006 and Paris in 2008, where he became the youngest men’s winner in a major of the millennium.

These men were not the best of friends even when they met. They didn’t speak much. They had little in common. Federer would often come out of a practice session and, after greeting Nadal in his usual manner, continue down the hall without looking up.

What happened in 2014 on the Centre Court of Arthur Ashe Stadium was as it happens almost always with such pairs. But in their case, it was something different.

When Nadal emerged from his dressing room following the final

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