Rafael Nadal:
Only the Seventh Man in Tennis History to Achieve a Career Grand Slam

Covenant of the Rival
Rivals are both the bane of our existence and the greatest gift on the hard-scrabble road to greatness.

Rivals challenge us to find the best within ourselves and never allow us the luxury of settling for anything less.

Rivals force us to understand that good-enough is never good enough.

Most leaders in sports and business owe their success not only to hard work and luck, but to the man, woman or organization that pushed them to a performance level higher than they might have otherwise ever imagined.

Nadal v. Federer

Roger Federer is a better player today because of what happened in Miami in March 2004. The then-number-one ranked Federer was beaten by a 17 year old kid, ranked only 34 on the men's tour. Rafael Nadal.

That match was the beginning of one of the greatest rivalries in men's tennis.

Wikipedia reports that Federer and Nadal are the only pair of men to have finished five consecutive calendar years as the top two ranked players on the ATP Tour.

The two men have gone head-to-head 21 times now. Nadal has won 14 of those matches, giving him a 2-to-1 edge over Federer.

To compete with, and to win against, the man who held the number one position for a record 237 weeks has undeniably brought the best out of Nadal.

Sampras v. Agassi

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were the tortoise and hare of tennis.

Sampras -- known as Pistol Pete on the tour -- achieved greatness, in large part, by becoming the best server in the game.

Agassi countered that advantage by becoming the best server returner in the game.

Sampras holds the advantage in the head-to-head rivalry of these two players, but the keen competition may have pushed Agassi to become the first commercially successful anti-hero of tennis.

John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were known for outbursts on the court but Agassi converted controversy into commerce.

Sampras always seemed focused and serious about the game, while Agassi was the guy who told us -- and sold us on the idea -- that image is everything.

Ali v. Frazier

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met each other in the ring only three times, yet their rivalry defined heavyweight boxing for decades.

The first contest, in March 1971, was called the Fight of the Century. Frazier won the 15 Rounder by unanimous decision.

The two boxers met again in 1974 in New York but this time Ali was victorious.

Their third and final match was the Thrilla in Manila.

That fight ended when Frazier was unable to continue in the 15th round.

Their career tally: Ali-2, Frazier-1

Mantle v. Maris

The New York Yankees won the World Series in 1961.
Maybe the fact that they had the M&M Boys on their roster had a lot to do with that.

Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, both Yankees, were that year, each on a home-run-roll to match, or best, Babe Ruth's long-standing record.

Mantle had come close to eclipsing the home-run record in 1956 but fell 9 runs short. Perhaps because of that, the media of the day embraced Mantle and didn't seem to give Maris much respect.

But a hip problem forced Mantle out of the competition and Maris went on to hit 61 home runs that year.

That was one more home run than Babe Ruth but the feat was accomplished in a longer season with more games played. Consequently, Maris received an asterisk by his name in the record books.

Adidas v. Puma

Adi and Rudi Dassler started the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory in Herzogenaurach, Germany in 1924.

During the 1936 Olympics, held in Germany, Adi convinced star athlete Jesse Owens to compete in Dassler shoes. Owens' four gold medals helped to put Dassler Shoes on the map.

The brothers couldn't agree on the whole Nazi thing, though. Rudi is reported to have had warmer feelings toward the Third Reich than Adi.

They went their separate ways in 1947.

Adi Dassler formed a company, named after a shortening of his own name, called Adidas

Rudi formed a company called Rudas. That name didn't stick though and was changed to Puma.

Today Adidas is a $10.4 billion company. Puma is a $2.5 billion company.

Adi wins.