A year ago around this time, Roger Federer was hobnobbing with the well-to-do in Arizona for the NFL’s championship game, the Super Bowl. This year, Roger Federer is playing in tennis’s very own version of the Super Bowl as he bids for a fourth Australian Open title and a share of arguably this sport’s ultimate prize, Pete Sampras’s 14 career Grand Slam victories.
To tie Pete, though, Federer will have to navigate past his friend and nemesis Rafael Nadal in what is simply the best rivalry in tennis, and one of the best in all of sports.
After two week of intense, draining competition, what a great way to end the first Grand Slam of the 2009 season. Could anyone ask for more? Well, for me in an Eastern U.S. time zone a noon Melbourne start would be far more welcomed than a 7:30pm, which translates to 3:30am my time. But at least it’s a Sunday morning!
And if you did rise early for the Serena Williams demolition of Dinara Safina yesterday (I did not), I have a feeling that this latest Federer-Nadal chapter won’t leave you disappointed again despite the lofty standards of this clash.
Of course we remember their epic last meeting on the lawns of Wimbledon in July won by Rafa in what many consider to be the greatest match ever. And their battles, albeit somewhat lopsided ones, at the French Open, but now we finally get to see the two best tennis players in the world go at it in a Slam on what people say is a neutral surface, a hardcourt.
As for the outcome, I’m sticking with my original pick at the start of the tournament and taking Federer to win this one in four sets. There’s just too much at stake for the Swiss to lose here with equaling Sampras, regaining an edge over Nadal and narrowing the gap on No. 1. Fed’s never lost a hardcourt Slam final and he’s been in full flight since that two-set hiccup against Tomas Berdych.
Rafa’s been excellent as well, but I think just having reached the final the way he did may have quenched his thirst in Melbourne. Maybe some of the edge is gone. Then again maybe he’s ready to vanquish Federer once and for all and fully take over the circuit. He owns clay, he owns grass and now possibly hardcourt? Scary, but he’s that close to doing it.
Head-to-head Nadal leads 12-6 including the last four and it’s no surprise as the Spaniard’s game really matches up very favorably with the Roger on just about any surface. But we’ve heard from the ESPN commentators this week that the balls in Melbourne are not bouncing as high as in the past and that Rafa’s flattened out his forehand a little more. If true, those are both positives for Fed. The lower the bounce the better Fed’s backhand.
Federer has also been serving exceptionally well and if continues to hold with ease that will allow him to be that much more aggressive and more attacking on Rafa’s serve. And that’s how he’ll beat Rafa today. Going after him. Therefore I think Fed’s serve will be the key today.
If Federer’s serve falter he’s not going to win.
Leading up to the match a lot has been made about the tournament scheduling, but I don’t think it’s a big concern in this final. Critics argue both semifinals should have been played on the same day, and because they were not, Federer’s extra day off – he played Thursday night while Nadal Friday – benefits the Swiss.
Well, I don’t think it helps Federer’s recovery any because he absolutely breezed by Andy Roddick in his semifinal, so my guess is he would have been fully recovered within 24 hours anyway had he played Friday. Nadal played a marathon 5-hour, 14-minute grinding slugfest Friday so the day off Saturday will aid in his recovery, but he might still be a bit sluggish and low on fuel after the Verdasco match. That said, had Nadal played Thursday and Fed Friday, Nadal may have benefited from the extra day but I don’t think it’s any different for Roger.
Yes, the scheduling in Slams is screwy but as they say, it is what it is. And I seem to recall many years ago Stefan Edberg outlasting Michael Chang in a 5-hour plus affair in the US Open semifinals. The Swede then came back the very next day and beat Sampras for the title. Impressive, yes.
And if there’s one guy who can shake off the affects of physical match like the one he had against Verdasco, it’s Nadal.
Regardless of the outcome of the final it will be a historic match. We know what’s on the line for Roger but for Rafa if he can win this title he’ll have won Slams on three different surfaces and we’ll begin to hear the chatter again of a possible calendar Slam.
Guess we’ll find out in a few hours. The alarm clock is set…
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