Unless it’s indoors or on a grass court, I’m done thinking Roger Federer can beat Rafael Nadal anymore. On clay or on outdoor hardcourt in big matches, best-of-five Federer simply doesn’t have an answer for Rafa.
This morning at the Australian Open, Federer played the right game to beat Nadal. He attacked, he served well, though not great at the end, and his backhand held up as strong as it could. And it still wasn’t anywhere near enough.
Federer’s normal game cannot beat Nadal’s normal game. So Federer has to adjust. He made those adjustments, executed pretty well – yes, there were lots of errors and poor approaches, but that’s the new gameplan – and he still came up woefully short.
But early on it looked good for Federer. For a bit at least.
Federer won a tight first set, went up a break in the second before coming unglued spraying forehands all over the court. And Nadal jumped at the chance to take control. And he did.
After splitting the first two topsy-turvy sets, Federer held an edge in the third but just couldn’t hold off the relentless Spaniard.
With Nadal up 2-1 in sets it was only a matter of time before Rafa closed the door. After Federer missed a break chance in Rafa’s 4-3 service game he was, as we so often see, broken in his his very next service game.
Nadal then served out a nervy final game to win the match 6-7(5), 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-4.
All credit to Nadal who I don’t think is at his best but he was good enough to beat Federer. And that’s what counts. Bad knee, bad shoulder, bad shorts and heavier racquet all irrelevant. Facts are facts, he still beat an in-form Federer who had won 24 straight matches.
If Federer was going to beat Nadal this was it.
And the head-to-head numbers continue to skew one-sided in favor of Rafa. In Grand Slam play Nadal has dominated 8-2 now winning their last five. And perplexingly on an outdoor hardcourt Nadal is up 5-1.
Overall Rafa’s 18-9 series lead doubles the Swiss.
Now at 30, Federer’s not going to get any better. Not better enough to beat Nadal at a Slam outside of perhaps Wimbledon. And mentally, these tough losses to JW Tsonga at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic at the US Open and now Nadal today have to take its toll.
He won’t say it, but they just have to.
Federer hasn’t won a Grand Slam now in over two years. That’s a long time. Unfortunately for Federer fans they might have to wait a whole lot longer. Time passes for every legend.
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