Long gone are the days of Federer and Nadal dominating tennis occupying the top two spots. Seemingly out of nowhere, though, the two are only a few wins away from their first major final against one another in six years. What makes this more surprising is not only is this Federer’s second-worst Major results-wise, but it’s also Nadal’s worst with it being the only major he has failed to win more than once.
Before the tournament began very few, if any, would have expected this to even be close to happening. But with the draw opening up massively thanks to Denis Istomin and Mischa Zverev beating World #1 Andy Murray and defending champion Novak Djokovic, suddenly the tournament was blown wide open. Even then perhaps Federer and Nadal were still long shots at making the final, after all the Swiss superstar had been absent for six months prior to returning this month. Meanwhile the Spanish 14-time Grand Slam champion had failed to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final in his last five appearances.
But the big question is does tennis really need a big Slam final between the #9 and #17 seeds? To be honest to answer this question you can look at it both ways. Former World #1 Andy Roddick described it as potentially “the biggest match in Australian Open history, and maybe in Grand Slam history.” Whether this will be the case is yet to be seen but there’s no doubt when it’s come to huge matches bringing in insane TV viewing numbers and popularity for the sport, it’s always been this one–despite the one-sided Head-to-Head with Nadal leading 23-11. Huge boosts in popularity for a sport can never be bad either, especially given overall 2016’s numbers for tennis have been dropping, such as for last year’s US Open.
Furthermore, if we look at the last few years in tennis, despite Federer’s semi-final opponent Stan Wawrinka winning a few Slams, for the most part almost every other Grand Slam has been dominated by Novak Djokovic, with him and Murray sharing most Masters events. If we do get a Federer vs Nadal final on Sunday it could well mean both returning to good form and rejoining the party, the so called “Big Four” party which dominated the Slams, Masters, and the top four positions in the rankings from late 2008 to early 2013–a period which many consider one of the best eras ever in tennis. Who wouldn’t be for seeing all four go at it again on a consistent basis competing for Slams one last time?
On the other hand, many tennis fans have been desperate for new names to finally step up and take over tennis from the “Big Four.” The issue here is when we get something such as a repeat of the 2014 US Open with Nishikori and Cilic beating both Djokovic and Federer in the semi-finals. Sure it was great for tennis to have new Slam finalists, with one of them winning, but not only were viewing numbers poor for the final but since then neither has stepped up to the plate with the pair only sharing a handful of semi-finals in Slams with no more finals. Is it really good for the sport to have new names making big finals if they can’t back it up?
But that’s perhaps where this Australian Open is interesting. If we don’t get Federer and Nadal, we could have three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, and from the bottom half the highest remaining seed and last year’s Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic. If we do get a final such as Wawrinka vs Raonic, given both of their careers so far, it would be great to see, especially after their epic five setter here last year.
If we do get the other possible players such as Dimitrov in the final then it’s a tossup. While we’ll never know if Dimitrov will have another huge walkabout after a huge Slam run, such as after his Wimbledon 2014 semi-final until now, the fact is if he does we are stuck with another similar situation to what we had with Cilic and Nishikori a few years ago. Saying that, there’s also a possibility that this time the Bulgarian can build off a huge run.
Overall the answer is pretty obvious, of course tennis doesn’t need a Federer vs Nadal final; but there’s no doubt it is the most desirable with a nice long-term effect to it. While guys like Wawrinka and Raonic in the final wouldn’t have the same impact, it would be nice to see tennis fans get guys at the very top of their games right now competing for Slams. The only real issue is if we get new names making huge finals that can’t back it up, but if they do then that’s also great for tennis as new names winning and competing for multiple Slams are needed. Either way it’s fair to say no matter what final we get here in Melbourne, tennis will most likely be in good hands.