The new king – I had to lead with this title, didn’t I?
How he had managed to do it was beyond anyone’s comprehension. Less than 48 hours earlier, he had staggered off court at well after 1am at the end of a five hour 14 minute epic with Fernando Verdasco. At the very same time, Federer had been sound asleep after getting an extra day off. Yet here was Nadal again, winning the battle of the muscles, the tactics and, most crucially of all, the nerves to beat Federer again, his 13th victory in 19 meetings and his fifth victory over the Swiss in seven meetings in Grand Slam finals.
But this Australian Open final was certainly epic entertainment, too. It also lasted five sets and more than four hours. It also featured plenty of abrupt reversals of fortune and unexpected breaks of serve, and it also ended with Nadal triumphant and Federer devastated.
Re the fitness issue:
Nadal was not nearly so certain that he would be in fine shape. After getting to sleep at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning following his Friday night marathon with Verdasco, he woke at 1 p.m. He practiced lightly that afternoon and again on Sunday afternoon.
“I was having a bit of trouble practicing,” he said. “I felt a little nauseated when I practiced yesterday and today. I was pretty concerned, not being sure whether I could be at my best. It’s tough feeling that way when it’s your first final in Australia and you’re not sure you’re going to be 100 percent. But in the end everything worked out well for me.”
Re Roger’s distress at the end:
“Of course it can happen to all of us,” he said of Federer’s breakdown during the ceremony. “It was an emotional moment, and I think this also lifts up sport, to see a great champion like Federer expressing his emotions. It shows his human side. But in these moments, when you see a rival, who is also a comrade, feeling like this, you enjoy the victory a little bit less.”
Actually, no one knew whether they should look at Federer or look away. It required Rafael Nadal to walk on to the court and throw his sturdy left arm around the Swiss to prevent any more shuffling of feet and wringing of hands.
But that is what makes Nadal such a champion. Put it into his head that he cannot win – and the schedule here, with one semi-final taking place a full day before the other, is something tennis at this level ought not to tolerate – and he accepts the challenge head on.
“I think this was a tougher beat than Wimbledon,” ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert said. “[Nadal] was completely out of gas, but he found a way to the finish line. Incredible. He has so much fight.”
“I would never, ever, ever put one dime on him to win this match in five sets, and in fact, it was Roger that got tired,” multiple Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova said. “For Rafa to be able to keep that up is just the most amazing physical display I’ve ever seen. That he could do it after that match two days ago is astonishing.”
“I’ve said from the beginning, I think that Nadal wins more majors than Roger,” seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander said. “If he physically keeps up, I think he wins more than anybody. Now he’s proven he can play on hard courts. He can be the boss everywhere.”
“I think it was potentially one of the greatest rivalries if the history of the game, but it’s turning out not to be,” Wilander said. “It’s an unbelievable match, it’s very attractive to watch it.
“It’s not [Bjorn] Borg- [John] McEnroe where they’re both winning until Borg quit. It’s not quite Sampras-[Andre] Agassi. It’s a little bit like that because Sampras had Agassi’s number, but Agassi won enough and Agassi played longer than Pete. It’s just not the same. This is a serious rivalry that’s become one-sided, literally.”
And as the pressure ratcheted up in the fifth set, it was Federer who wilted, not Nadal. Federer had six winners and 14 unforced errors in the set, while Nadal had just two unforced errors and dropped only three points in four service games.
Nadal beats Federer in epic final
With so much at stake it was still a surprise to see Federer, 27, make a desperately nervous start, dropping serve immediately in a woeful game of three wild errors and a double fault.
Nadal had the chance to build an early lead but was pegged back straight away in a 10-minute game, Federer converting his third break point with a smooth forehand winner down the line.
Nadal has spent a year dragging Federer down, ending his run of five Wimbledon titles and his record stretch atop the rankings. Nadal added his first major away from the French Open clay and Wimbledon grass to hand Federer his only defeat in nine Grand Slam finals on hard courts and leave him in tears.
If Roger Federer does go on to become the greatest player of all time, he will have a lot to thank Rafael Nadal for.
Winning his sixth gland slam and making him arguably one of the greatest players in the modern era, Rafael Nadal showed on Sunday night (February 1) why he is the top ranked tennis player in the world.
You could write a book on the Federer-Nadal rivalry. But I wonder if, at some level, it doesn’t boil down to this: Nadal relishes the relationship and having a nemesis against whom to match skill/will/mettle/wits. Federer hasn’t warmed to the concept.
Other legends, such as John McEnroe and Stefan Edberg, have won marathon semifinals and went on to win Grand Slam finals, but Nadal’s feat, a five-hour and 14-minute marathon victory over the red-hot Fernando Verdasco in the semis, followed up by a four-hour and 23-minute win over Federer, who went into the last day with a 8-0 record in hard court major finals, owns a special place in the record books.
“Rafa believes in a different level than Federer does,” said four-time Grand Slam champion Jim Courier. “I think Federer only believes in that level against other players.”