What year is it again? Looking at the men’s final draw, you wouldn’t know that it’s 2017. You’d think it’s 2007! Only where’d Andy Roddick go? Oh wait, he was in Melbourne also this year, just not playing of course.
So the story of the men’s Australian Open has been the return of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Few thought we’d see ever see them meet again in a significant match let alone a freakin’ Grand Slam final. But here we are.
It’s really unbelievable. Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and even Stan Wawrinka have been dominating lately. Meanwhile, Roger’s had a bad knee, Rafa’s had his knee issues and now a wrist, and they’re both aging, struggling just to win any title – last year Rafa won five matches in Grand Slam play while Federer didn’t win a single title!
But the boys are back and this time it’s for the GOAT.
If Federer wins his 18th beating his rival Nadal, I think that cements his legacy as the greatest ever. To win another Slam at 35 after six months off the tour and to do it over your chief rival? Wow!
If Nadal wins, it’s his 15th Slam (still 2 behind Roger), but it’s his second “Career Slam”, something no one has done in the Open Era and something Roger will never do. And to do it beating Roger for a seventh time in nine Slam finals, the debate is over.
So who wins it?
Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal
Before the Grigor Dimitrov match, I would have leaned to Federer to get the job done and beat Rafa. But after watching Rafa’s return to form Friday, things just don’t look good for a Swiss win Sunday night in Melbourne.
If Rafa plays like he did at the start of the week, there’s hope for Federer. But if Rafa’s finding the range on his forehand and hitting his serve well, I don’t now how Roger can last.
Then there’s that head-to-head. Nadal leads 23-11 and he’s won six of eight in Slam finals. In fact, Federer hasn’t beaten Nadal in a Grand Slam final since 2007 Wimbledon. That’s over 9.5 years ago. 9.5 years!!
Plus, there’s Roger’s adductor injury and I have to think Nadal just got grooved against a player who’s almost identical to Federer in Dimitrov.
But there’s hope.
For Federer to win he has to serve well. That’s key. Forget the backhand, if he doesn’t serve well he’s finished. If he does then he’ll need to be firm on the backhand. He’s not as powerful as a Dimitrov off that wing, but he slices better. Use that. And attack the net at every chance, and maybe bring Rafa in, though the Spaniard is quite adept at volleys. Return of second serve will also be important.
For Nadal, it’s his forehand. When that’s on his game flows. So we’ll see that pattern of him hitting to Roger’s backhand. And also court positioning. He was doing a poor job of that the first week, but better now and he’ll have to stay up in the court to keep Roger defensive.
Other than that, Roger will have the crowd, the momentum, the history of playing well in Melbourne and the confidence of beating Berdych, Nishikori and Wawrinka – three matches he was never near the brink of losing unlike Rafa.
Rafa will be the healthier player, I think, even though he didn’t get the extra day off. And that’s an “X Factor” here: how healthy is Roger? Remember, he didn’t play for six months and already this event he’s had two five setters. At 35, that’s got to add up somewhere. So that gives me pause because against Nadal in a Grand Slam final you cannot be weary in the legs. Not when you could be out there for up to five hours!
But if Roger is 100%, he’ll have the court speed, the conditions, the crowd, but there’s just an avalanche of numbers going against Fed here. So unless Rafa just comes out flat and nervous…
The Pick: Nadal in 4
ESPN will have the coverage again at 3:30am. This one is worth getting up for (not that I should have to tell you). It’s for the GOAT!
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