Roger Federer reflected on his epic tennis rivalry with Rafael Nadal.

The pair are linked with each other for life given their long rivalry that dominated tennis until Novak Djokovic entered the picture and eventually made the sport one dominated by the Big Three.

But before Djokovic, it was Nadal who was the first to really test Federer and his dominance in the sport.

Federer made note of how the Spaniard — who entered the ATP Tour in 2005 — was a shy and respectful individual at first before later becoming a competitive and fierce rival.

That said, they still always got along.

“I am five years older than Rafa so I saw young, junior Rafa come through [and] he was extremely good, very young,” Federer said during a recent UNIQLO event (via Tennis 365). “He was incredibly respectful and also very shy, he had complete respect for me, not that he doesn’t have that now, it’s just different because we are friendly.

“He would be very in awe of me and everything I wanted to do with the Tour. [When I had] ideas, he was like ‘you’re right’. Then I saw Rafa grow into his personality, he became more confident, he had his own ideas and then we started playing each other every other weekend and obviously the rivalry got intense, but it was good and we always got along well.

“Not just the two of us, but also our teams, my parents, his parents, my coaches, his coaches, his sister, my sister so the whole surrounding were always respectful and very good.”

The rivalry was certainly intense at many points as Federer and Nadal played a number of finals against each other — including their famous and iconic 2008 Wimbledon final encounter — in a head-to-head record that saw them play each other 40 times with the Spaniard coming out on top on 24 of those occasions.

As they got older and recognized that their time on the court was limited, their bond grew stronger. They began to cherish and respect their rivalry — a significant shift from earlier days when Federer admitted they probably couldn't stand each other.

“As we got older, and maybe knew time was ticking and we were not about to see each other so much any more,” Federer added. “I started a family – it changes someone completely – and we started to talk about totally different things in life, maybe more about injuries, about kids – he is also a father now – so the conversations changed.

“We started respecting the rivalry we used to have and we almost miss it, playing each other every weekend. Back in the day, we couldn’t stand each other probably for that. He’s a great man. I wish he can come back one more time but he has shown the tennis world and the fans how good he is.”

Federer retired in 2022 with 20 Grand Slam titles.

Nadal currently has 22 — one behind the record-holder in Djokovic with 23 — and could further increase his tally during the 2024 season which as things stand, looks to be his final year on the ATP Tour.