Federer achieves special win against nemesis Nadal in Australian Open final
When Roger lost the Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal in 2009, it looked like the supremacy of the Swiss star on the biggest stage had been nullified. Rafa had beaten Roger already at French Open and Wimbledon in the previous season and with this win at Australian Open, he had trumped Roger at all places where the Swiss legend was considered a cert to win. On each of these occasions, Roger left the court in agony and disbelief and with a gigantic image of a monstrous Nadal in his mind that would just keep growing bigger in form with every loss. That did not mean that his ability against his other competitors would be undermined. He went to win his career grand slam shortly at the French Open and three more grand slams until 2017. In that span, however, his head-to-head record with Nadal got even worse with another grand slam final loss at French Open 2011 and two semi-final losses at Australian Open in 2012 and 2014. ‘Federer beating Nadal at a grand slam’ seemed like an undoable task for the great Federer himself and an unimaginable yet desired reality for his fans. Eight years after that Australian Open in 2009, the stage was set for another Fedal final at the Oz Open. And, the excitement was again achieving a great level.
When the Fedal final was all set for the Australian Open this time around; bookies, fans and analysts could only imagine another classic between the two with Roger having to accept a defeat in the end. It’s the story of the rivalry; the lopsided outcomes from a series of all-time-great matches. People can’t think otherwise. Any argument popping up in the mind of a fan that suggested a Federer win would get knocked down by the stern belief that Federer just could not outlast Nadal in a best-of-five set match anymore.
Great champions, I guess, are the last ones to discount their capabilities. While all Federer fans would have hoped that Roger would win the match, Roger probably was the only one who totally believed he was pulling this off. He hadn’t been to an official tournament in 6 months. So what? When he did, he ousted three top 10 opponents en route to the final that included top contenders like Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka. Kei Nishikori is a potential giant-killer wherever he goes and Stan Wawrinka had just won the previous hard court slam (that was also the previous slam). He won both these matches in the 5th set. So, Roger had received all sorts of seasoning before he reached the final. And, he got the extra day-off after his semifinal. He was anyway going to be able to run around like a buck with Nadal, for as long as he would require to.
Roger had good spirit throughout the tournament when he didn’t shy away from any opportunity. But, before the final, Roger was ready to showcase his new abstract weapon, a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude. It was this attitude that would allow Roger to bring his real A-game to the table. And, his A-game had been revamped in the off-season, in the guidance of his coach Ivan Ljubicic and his team. His backhand had been augmented. It was again a slam-winning shot of his arsenal. His serve had beefed up too which was more reliable than before.
Many were deeming this match as the legacy match or something. Many mentioned that the winner of this would not only take away the coveted Oz Open slam title but also the long-contested GOAT (greatest of all time) title. More than anything, this match would be the ultimate treat for any tennis fan and another legendary battle of this epic rivalry. Everyone wanted to see more of those scenes ‘Federer rushing to the net with a forehand approach shot’, ‘Nadal hitting a great forehand passing shot at full stretch’, ‘Federer hitting a return ace to create break points in the deciding set’ etc etc….
The match lived up to its expectations. Federer started strong winning the first 6-4 with a break of serve. It was the kind of start to this Fedal match that all are quite familiar with. More from the familiar tale, Rafa won the next set 6-3 breaking Roger’s serve twice in that set (out of which Roger nullified one). But Roger quickly stood back up on his feet and crushed Nadal in this third set. He won it 6-1. That was some statement from Roger. He was hitting unreal shots and service returns. His shots were flatter than ever and his backhand impeccable. It did finally look like some chances of him winning the match have appeared. Rafa was mentally still unbroken and fighting. He won the next set 6-3. Roger at the moment, was hitting at a lot into the net and was losing his grip on the match slowly. He then gets broken in the first game of the deciding set despite the efforts to fend it off. Nadal had put his nose in front, but it was only the start of the set. In each of the two subsequent service games of Nadal, Federer would challenge him sternly. He created three break points in the second game of the set and one in the fourth game but the great competitor Nadal denied Federer of the break each time. Federer has blasting winners off his backhand wing and Nadal was just managing to find a forehand winner on break points. But finally, on a break point on 40-AD at 3-2 (which Roger created by a gorgeous backhand cross court winner), he hit an inside-out forehand wide. And, that was the turning point of the match. Federer had kept Nadal totally under pressure on serve and he finally found the break. On this occasion, even the best of Nadal wasn’t quite enough to hold back Roger. Federer held the next game without losing a point. Then came the most important game of the match and the tournament which fittingly also contained the historic point from the match. Roger employed his variety and tactics to create three break points at 0-40. Yes. The man was one point away from possibly winning his 18th slam and probably the most important match of his career. To his agony, Nadal would win the next three points. Then came the big point and hot shot of the match. Nadal served to Federer’s forehand and a great rally started. Roger was trying to gain an advantage in the rally by putting Nadal in a defensive position, Nadal tried to stay in the point. Roger pushed Nadal to the right-end of his court and unleashed an unbelievable forehand down the line. It was a winner. What a point at this stage of the match! What an end to it! Roger had created a fourth break point in that game. Nadal served up an unreturnable serve down the T. But Roger stay put to it. He would play another aggressive point to create another break point (his 11th break point in that set; his conversion had been 1/10). And this time, he would take it with a great return of serve off his backhand. Nadal was far from over. In the first point, next game, he hits a return ace. Then goes up 15-40 on Roger’s serve, stilling fighting. Roger then plays three great points; ace on the first, winner on the second, ace on the third. Nadal denied Roger the win on the first match point, but Roger sealed the match on the second with a forehand winner that landed right on the sideline. Nadal challenged the call. Roger couldn’t believe what he was seeing on the big screen. He had already won his 18th grand slam. He had ended his 4-5 year long slam drought. He had beaten Nadal in a grand slam for the first time in almost a decade. So many things. So many emotions one could read on his face. The cliffhanger was epic. And Roger’s release of emotions was comprehensive. He was astonished, amazed, ecstatic and emotional. He had won the match 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. His backhand was his greatest weapon throughout the match. Never before had Roger tackled Rafa’s forehand with his backhand the way he did on Sunday, the 29th of January. Roger had deserved his win.
Roger was now a winner of 18 slams, leader in the open era. He won his 5th Australian Open title, the first in 7 years. He now has at least 5 titles in three (Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open) of the four grand slams, and that’s another record that he has created in the open era. Perhaps, now, the 4-slam difference between Roger and Rafa will eventually seal the all-time-slam-count-record for Roger. Now, it’s likely that he finishes with more slams than Nadal. Even if the future pans out differently for him, he can be proud that he overcame Nadal at a slam when many discounted him, in the twilight of his career.
Nadal played another great grand slam match against Roger. And there are umpteen reasons to believe that Rafa is going to win a slam this year, especially the French Open. His spirit is back. His fearsome forehand is back. That shot has won him all his accolades. And, he is back with it. Reaching a slam final on a surface that is not your backyard is something that is not to be overlooked. He will be looking forward to a great year of tennis and can still very well rule the clay season.
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Brought to you by Shivashish Sarkar, blogger at the Continental Grip.
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