When a warrior falls
In the face of a test
There’s one thing they are
As they heal up and rest:
A warrior still
Nothing could sum up Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s comeback better. Their future looked bleak after they were forced to prematurely end their 2016 season. Making a comeback is one thing while reaching the finals of a Grand Slam on a comeback is at a totally different level. Tennis cannot afford to lose them, yet.
Even though it took Federer four and a half years to win a Grand Slam since he won Wimbledon in 2012, he was never out of contention. He played three finals and some very close semi-final matches in the recent past. He had never given up trying. At the Australian Open, a slam he has been most consistent at, he had reached the semi-finals five times since he last lifted the trophy in 2010.
Roger Federer has won his 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and in doing so he has become the first man ever to win five or more titles at three different Grand Slams (7 Wimbledon, 5 Australian Open and 5 US Open). Federer was trailing 0-2 in the fifth set in the finals, and it seemed like the end of the match already. Nadal’s defense had been great at crucial moments and there was no way Federer could have broken Nadal twice in the deciding set. But, what followed was no less than a miracle. Maybe that’s what makes a great player greater.
Federer’s backhand, particularly, was fundamental to winning the Australian Open this year. His backhand has always been good, producing angles that are impossible for a two-handed backhander. Only Wawrinka or maybe Gasquet could ever play backhand shots like he could. But, in this tournament his backhand was lethal. It has been very rare when his backhand has dictated points, especially against Nadal. Nadal has always looked forward to attack Federer’s backhand on his serves and while mounting pressure during the match, forcing Federer to commit mistakes. But, during the finals, Federer used his arsenal appropriately and was always quick to put the pressure back on Nadal. Nadal has always relied on longer rallies while playing Federer, waiting for Federer to make the mistakes. And it has worked for him most of the time. However, this time Federer did not let down his guard throughout the course of the match and was happy to spar with Nadal. Both players had good strategies for each other, just that Federer’s worked better.
In this tournament, people drew parallels from the 2009 Australian Open and the 2008 Wimbledon. In both these tournaments, the finals were played between Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, Nadal winning both these matches. Most of us expected a similar result this time too, as Nadal was more favoured to win the title. But, Roger Federer had other plans for the weekend.
Nadal has now lost three Australian Open finals (2012 to Djokovic, 2014 to Wawrinka and 2017 to Federer). But, he has always managed to follow up his Australian Open loss with a French Open trophy, something he couldn’t do the year he won the Australian Open (2009). So, it is safe to say that for Rafa, the Australian Open and the French Open are two mutually exclusive events. Even though Rafans (that’s what they call themselves) are devastated by his recent loss, I think they’d be happier to see him win his 10th French Open title. Even though Federer trails 12-23 against Nadal in their Head to Head matches, the score is equally settled at 10-10 in matches played on surfaces apart from clay. Federer leads 2-1 on grass while Nadal leads 9-8 on Hard Courts and 13-2 on clay.
Right after the French Open last year, Novak Djokovic was the holder of all four Grand Slam titles, and now he is left with just one. He has since been unable to defend any of his titles, reaching the title match only at the US Open. One thing that we’ve learnt from this year’s Australian Open is that one can never discount a player and it is never safe to say if a player would win Grand Slams in the future or not. But, it is highly doubtful if Djokovic would ever have a season as good as his 2011 or 2015. He might win more Grand Slams, but he won’t be winning them as comfortably as he once did. The Fedal era was a different time, the game has become more physical since then, and the younger players certainly hold an advantage. So, Djokovic should try and grab as many opportunities to win, while he still can. Talking of lost opportunities, Andy Murray lost his this time at the Australian Open. He was the top seed and Djokovic was already out of the tournament. But then, it was either him or Federer and well, the Australian Open trophy does look better with Federer.