It’s time to wrap up what was best called an unpredictable Australian Open which culminated in a win by Roger Federer over Rafael Nadal in a final absolutely no one saw coming a month ago. Once again, just when you think you know tennis, you don’t.
1. The Win
What an incredible effort by Federer to not only get up off the mat from a 3-1 deficit in the fifth, but to rip off five straight games — five of the best of his career, he acknowledged — to snatch victory from certain defeat.
This was Federer, a guy who was 35, who hadn’t played in six months and who hadn’t beaten Nadal in over nine years in a Slam. And there he was, running five straight games, playing near-flawless and somehow, with well over three hours in the fight, he was out Nadal-ing Nadal. Beating off the ground and just as impressively, beating him mentally.
Nine years, six straight losses and here he was staring down Nadal who had the break lead. And he broke him twice.
That said, over 48 hours later, I still don’t know how Federer pulled that off! Even more astonishing when you consider how he began the event. What was it, four consecutive shanks against Jurgen Melzer?
2. It’s The Backhand Stupid!
I said going into the match Federer’s chances hinged on his serve and his backhand. His serve — 20 aces — went as we thought it would. He was also hyper-aggressive, was decent off the forehand, but boy, Federer was hitting his backhand arguably better than ever. And without it, he loses that match because that was Nadal’s go-to.
Fourteen winners with 23 unforced errors off that side is what Federer finished with on his backhand. Good numbers in general, but incredible against a guy like Rafa who made a living picking on that side. And Nadal did just that again, but this time Federer was firm and even, at times, offensive which stunned not only me but must have shocked Nadal and his team. I don’t think anyone thought Roger’s backhand would be that strong.
Granted, the quick court didn’t take the Nadal spin, but Federer still had to answer and answer he did.
3. The GOAT Debate
It’s over…for now. Roger goes up to 18, Nadal is still stuck at 14 and likely will never get that second Australian Open and the second Career Slam that goes with it.
Ok, so the head-to-head is still heavily in Nadal’s favor and it’s more than likely going to end that way, but look what Federer just did. He missed six months, came back to beat four Top 10 players (hasn’t been done in 35 years), win three five-set matches (hasn’t been done in over 10 years) and then he came back from 2-0 down in a fifth. And he did it as a 35-year-old, becoming the oldest Grand Slam men’s champion in 45 years since Ken Rosewall won the 1974 Australian Open. And he did it beating Rafa. That’s just too good.
Again, had Nadal won the match he takes that GOAT title with him back to Mallorca. And up 2-0 in the fifth, it was his to win. Except he didn’t. Rafa blinked, Federer didn’t.
4. Federer’s Future
Maybe the second biggest stunner of the final Federer’s admission afterward that he wasn’t sure if he was going to come back to Australia to defend his title.
Of course he’s not talking necessarily of an imminent retirement or a farewell tour, but he is cautioning that another serious injury at his age could end his career. So hearing those kinds of words for the first time from him do shock.
Yet in the near term, this win will do wonders in expediting his return. So much for giving Roger 2-3 months to work his body and confidence back into form. But now there will be expectations in Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami. And I think this will put him back in the title hunt at Wimbledon and the US Open. So things are looking awfully good for Federer provided he can remain healthy, which at 35 can be the toughest opponent there is.
5. That MTO
So this is a topic of much consternation for many Nadal fans. Medical timeouts are never good, especially when you have to leave the court during a crucial moment in the match, such as right before the start of a fifth set of a Grand Slam final like Federer. Even though it’s within the rules, that would and should raise an eyebrow or two. And understandably it has.
I was wincing seeing Roger leave, not out of fear of serious injury, it was just felt wrong.
But the problem in this situation is right after Federer left the court for some eight minutes to get treatment, Nadal immediately broke Federer when he returned and then held the very next game for a 2-0 lead. So if anything, it clearly looks like Nadal benefited from the break rather than Federer!
Nadal still had momentum after the MTO and really maintained it up until the 3-2 game, a good 20 minutes after the timeout. So no, Nadal didn’t lose the match because of the MTO. I just don’t see the argument. Sorry Rafa fans, find something else to harp on.
6. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray
What happened? The tour WAS yours. YOU guys were supposed to dominate. And yet neither of you made it to the final weekend let alone the quarterfinals. And honestly, I don’t think anyone missed you guys at the end. Sadly, that’s how tough it is to follow two legends like Roger and Rafa.
7. Rafa’s Back?
I don’t know how “back” he is. Like Federer, Nadal isn’t at his peak either, and probably never will be again. But this result does light a spark that he can make a run at the French. The key will be how he rebounds next month at Indian Wells and Miami. Can he beat Djokovic, Murray and even Federer? And maybe had he had the extra day off and not Federer, that may have changed fortunes. Had schedules been reversed, I think we’d have seen a different outcome.
8. This Australian Open Kicked Ass…And It Kicked My Ass!
I was hoping to have this piece out Sunday night/Monday morning, but the many early mornings, the lack of sleep and juggling a work/family life finally did me in Sunday afternoon. But getting sick for 36 hours or so was worth it! The high drama of losing Djokovic to Denis Istomin, Murray to Mischa Zverev, then a memorable Federer-Nadal final, what an unbelievable start to 2017. I can’t even imagine what’s to come…
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Roger Federer’s Updated GOAT Resume
Pete Sampras On GOAT Debate: Federer’s The Greatest, But Nadal’s Now In The Conversation
Fedal Wars: In The GOAT Debate, Are Nadal Fans Rooting Against Federer To Win His First Davis Cup?
Rod Laver: Novak Djokovic And Roger Federer Are Equals In The GOAT Debate
Pete Sampras: If You Look At The Numbers, Roger Federer’s The Greatest We’ve Ever Seen