For the second time in this blog's history, I get to write about a Grand Slam win by the maestro that is Roger Federer 🙂 . It has been five years in the making, and many fans thought 17 was the final count, but he somehow found an extra gear to defeat Rafael Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 and win his 5th Australian Open crown.
The win tops off a truly epic comeback after six months off from the game, and it's still hard to comprehend. Beating four top 10 players en route to the title and becoming the second oldest man in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam since 37-year-old Ken Rosewall won the 1972 Australian Open.
I was relatively optimistic in my draw preview post, but I never foresaw a semi or final, never mind winning it. But as the tournament wore on it looked like there was a possibility Roger had a chance to take #18 and just like when the 17th seeded Sampras defeated Agassi in the 2001 US Open final, it was only fitting that Nadal was the man he had to overcome to win his 18th Grand Slam title.
Quick Match Recap
Nadal won the toss and elected to serve, holding to love before Roger levelled. Roger pegged the Spaniard to 30 in his next game, but it wasn't until game seven that he got another look in, piecing together a great return game to break and he went on to take the set 6-4. Game on!
A Nadal bathroom break delayed the start of the 2nd set, and upon resumption, he was able to up his game, breaking, saving a break back point and breaking again for a 4-0 lead. Roger was able to recoup one of them, but Nadal went on to level things up by taking the set 6-3.
Into set 3 and Nadal was again the aggressor, taking advantage of Federer failing to land first serves to hold three break points. However, Roger found aces when he needed them to hold and in game two hit a ridiculous half-volley forehand to set up break point which he converted for 2-0. This time it was Roger's turn to go up a double break for 5-1. The Swiss wobbled slightly when serving for the set with a double fault but he saved two break points to take two sets to one lead.
It had been an up and down match for both players and set four was no different as Nadal fired back, breaking for 3-1 and coming up with a ridiculous forehand get that drew applause from Roger to hold for 4-1 after multiple deuces. The one break proved decisive, and thanks to some smart body serving Nadal was able to force a fifth set.
Just like in the Wawrinka semifinal, Roger took an off-court medical timeout during the changeover. Upon his return he was broken to 30, hitting a wild forehand into the tramlines. Nadal then saved three break points to consolidate and put himself in the driving seat.
A love hold from Roger put the pressure back on Nadal, and the Spaniard again had to save a break point, but he came up with the goods once more to hold for 3-1. Time was running out for Roger, but another speedy hold gave him some momentum and in game 6 he was able to break through on his second break point to level at 3-3.
Another love hold put him back in front for 4-3. Nadal had started to struggle on serve as Roger went after his returns and in game eight the Swiss created a love 40 opening. In typical Nadal style, he saved all three to make deuce.
Then we got the point of the match, a 26 shot rally and Roger won it with a sublime full-stretch forehand down the line to set up another break point. Nadal saved it with a clutch serve down the T changeup. But Roger won the next point and this time converted to put himself 5-3 in front.
Serving for the match Roger slipped to 0-30, hit an ace for 15-30, but Nadal then held two break points. Another ace followed, and then Roger came up with a French Open 2009 4th Round-esque forehand to make deuce. A match point quickly followed which Nadal saved but an ace gave Roger his second championship point which he converted with a forehand winner that clipped the line. GOAT!
|Match Statistics||R. Federer||R. Nadal|
|First Serve % In||85/138 (62%)||110/151 (73%)|
|Win % On 1st Serve||65/85 (76%)||69/110 (63%)|
|Win % On 2nd Serve||26/53 (49%)||23/41 (56%)|
|Net Points Won||29/40 (73%)||10/12 (83%)|
|Break Points Won||6/20 (30%)||4/17 (24%)|
|Receiving Points Won||59/151 (39%)||47/138 (34%)|
|Total Points Won||150||139|
|Distance Covered (M)||3218.4||3306.5|
|Distance Covered/pt. (M)||11.1||11.4|
Thoughts on the Match
So how was the match won and lost? Ultimately it was Roger's decision to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and play the way he needed to get the win.
The question pre-match was always can he play like a man with nothing to lose, or will the demons of failures past whisper defeat in his ear in the most crucial moments?
The answer as we all know was yes he could play like had he had nothing to lose. It wasn't without difficulty, and there were moments where it looked as though deja vu was on the cards, but he found a level of aggression in the fifth we've not seen against Nadal before to get the win.
In previous Fedal matches, the takeaway has always been Roger's stubbornness of refusing to change a losing strategy. His historic play has been to float balls in on the return and start points either neutral or behind. He can get away with that against so many players, but not Rafa who will take over with his forehand.
Today we didn't see that at all; he went after Nadal's serve with full-blooded aggressiveness from ball one, varying his return position and moving up the court to take it early and force the issue.
By taking it on the rise, Roger was able to achieve two things: it meant Nadal had less time to recover after his service motion and it also meant Roger has significantly less distance to cover to get in position for the next ball. As a direct result, he's playing more points on his terms, and from there he can allow his talent to take over.
We also saw a similar pattern that we've seen throughout the two weeks in Australia which is the flattening out of his topspin backhand.
Roger has hit that shot brilliantly all tournament; in fact, it may even be the shot that won him this title. Today he took rally balls early and drove flat backhands into Nadal's forehand which helped him open up the court.
Dimitrov used this tactic extremely well and came within a couple of points of winning. Roger used it too and when you combine that with the fact he's better in virtually all areas than Grigor you can see why he was able to cross the line in first place.
It was the peRFect strategy. And even then it still went five which shows you the force that is Nadal. Even when you are doing virtually everything right, you simply cannot beat Nadal everytime. But in what was billed as one of their most significant encounters Roger found a way and this victory is indeed sweet 🙂
Difficult to put into words so soon after the event, but this is just another massive achievement from Roger. He's had some tough defeats over the years, perhaps even deserved to win a couple of Wimbledons but now the hard work has paid off, and he's delivered another Grand Slam title. And my favourite part of today? The winning yes but that 26 shot rally in the fifth set just reminded me why I'm a Roger Federer fan, win or lose, you can watch points like that on repeat for years to come. Sheer genius.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments 🙂
And PS thanks to everyone who read, live chatted and commented here throughout the Australian Open. The blog has been fairly quiet with Roger's absence but it's great so see many regular faces, and new ones here now he's back on tour. Thanks!