But once these great foes stepped on to the Roland Garros centre court, all that mattered was both men’s preternatural ability to strike a small yellow ball.
On Friday, it was Nadal’s swinging, looping, whip-crack style which prevailed over Federer’s finesse and near-perfect timing as he reached his 12th Roland Garros final 6-3 6-4 6-2.
The Spaniard had never lost to Federer in their five previous French Open meetings, but hadn’t beaten the Swiss in their last five matches overall, a run stretching back five years.
Something had to give.
But for all the anticipation, in the event it was Federer’s winning streak that gave way — with no little brutality.
Simply put, the swirling, gusty winds inside Court Philippe Chatrier far better suited the Spaniard’s style.
It has more safety built in and his heavily topspun shots were clearing the net by some distance.
It also resulted in his most one-sided Grand Slam triumph over Federer since beating him 6-1 6-3 6-0 here in 2008.
“It’s incredible, congratulations to Roger,” Nadal said on court at the end. “It’s incredible to play at that level aged 37.
“He’s probably the best player in history. It’s a great pleasure to play with him.
“Tough conditions with a lot of wind, and I’m very happy to be back in the final at Roland Garros which is the most important tournament in my career.”
Nadal’s triumph gives him a shot of moving closer to Federer’s men’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles, with the Spaniard sitting on 17.
To do so, however, he may need to beat world number one Novak Djokovic who himself is on 15 Grand Slam titles.
The Serb meets Austrian fourth seed Dominic Thiem now on Saturday, after the weather forced play late on Friday to be postponed.