From the title of this post it’s not hard to put two-and-two together and conclude I’m picking Roger Federer to beat Rafael Nadal Thursday in the first of two mega Australian Open semifinals on back-to-back mornings.
Nadal, of course, has owned Federer in this transcendent rivalry. He’s won 17 of 26 meetings and most importantly seven of the nine that they have played in Grand Slams including that incredible 5-set win back at the 2009 Australian Open final.
That’s 7-2 in Grand Slams. 7-2!
However, in this case I’ll go against conventional wisdom. Sure, Nadal has dominated Federer. Roger got Rafa in London when Nadal was ailing with something or other. He beat him the year before at that same London event but Rafa had just won a third set tiebreak over Andy Murray the day before. And in fact, digging deeper Federer hasn’t beaten Nadal in a best of five set match since the pre-roof days at Wimbledon in 2007.
That all said, now I’m thinking I should change my pick.
But I won’t. Federer has looked exceptionally strong at this event, even better than Nadal who lost his first set against Tomas Berdych Tuesday in a very tough four-setter.
The strategy for each guy is simple. Nadal will force Federer to hit those high backhands. Federer will rely on his serve to set up the forehand and attack the Spaniard. And handle forehand-to-backhand exhange. Of the two, Nadal’s strategy is the easiest to execute as it’s part of his natural game.
What I like about Roger, though, is that he’s won 24 straight matches, a streak that could have stretched even longer had Djokovic not ripped a winner down match point at the US Open.
His prior Grand Slam loss was took place when he was up two sets on Tsonga but choked it away.
At the French, well, that’s a no win against Nadal on clay.
Fact is, despite crushing losses to Tsonga and Djokovic in his last two Slams, he somehow has still kept it together.
Meanwhile, Rafa has complained about a sore shoulder and a now bad knee – and in fairness Federer did have that back issue – and he hasn’t won a title since the clay season.
I’ll give him a pass for his dismal performance at the the London Masters but the other night Berdych should have pushed Rafa even further the scoreline indicated. Then again he did what Berdych often does and that’s fold.
Still, Nadal has looked surprisingly good in Australia and it won’t be easy for anyone to beat the former No. 1. And I don’t think injuries or fatigue (from the Berdych match) factor in here at all. What does is that Federer is just playing better, more confident tennis at the moment than Rafa – my opinion.
When Nadal beat Federer in 2009, Rafa was a better at that time. I just don’t think he’s that same player – tinkering with his game by adding weight to his racquet? I’ll admit that Federer isn’t either. At age 30 Fed’s no longer the force he once was but knowing that I think he’ll rise up to the challenge Thursday.
The reality is at his age this could very well be Federer’s last stand. And I think here he makes it and wins in four sets.
Set your alarm because the match starts at 3:30am ET on ESPN2. It promises to be a good one!
THURSDAY AUSTRALIAN OPEN SCHEDULE
Rod Laver Arena 11:00 AM Start Time
Bob Bryan (USA) v. Robert Lindstedt (SWE)
Mike Bryan (USA) Horia Tecau (ROU)
Not Before:1:30 PM
Kim Clijsters (BEL) v. Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
Maria Sharapova (RUS) v. Petra Kvitova (CZE)
Rod Laver Arena 7:30 PM Start Time
Roger Federer (SUI) v. Rafael Nadal (ESP)
Martina Navratilova (USA) v. Martina Hingis (SUI)
Goran Ivanisevic (CRO) Pat Cash (AUS)
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