The final that many tennis fans had been waiting for, but not necessarily expecting. Seventeen-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer takes on fourteen-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal in one of the most eagerly-anticipated matches at a major in decades.
Rafael Nadal is looking to become only the second male tennis player in history to win two titles of every major, Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open (Rod Laver won all four in 1962 and 1969). Federer will be aware that Nadal and Novak Djokovic are lurking in the background, so adding to the collection and gaining his eighteenth major would be of the utmost importance, especially at the age of 35.
I think both players would be relatively surprised and shocked that they find themselves not only in a great position to win a Major so suddenly, but also to be competing against each other at this stage in a major once again. Federer had already talked about his expectations coming into the Australian Open. He expected to win a few rounds and to maybe reach the third or fourth round, and Nadal would have kept his feet on the ground despite the improvement in his results at the beginning of the season.
What are the keys to victory for both players then? For Federer, he has to find the right balance between being aggressive and working his way through the right shots at the right time in the right points. First and foremost, he has to be aggressive, but has to ensure he is not predictable in his rushes to the net as Nadal will take advantage of that. Federer also has to take his chances. If a break point presents itself then he ultimately needs to take those opportunities when they arrive.
Nadal’s key to victory do not change from his previous meetings with Federer. He holds a dominant 23-11 head-to-head record, a 3-0 Australian Open record and a 6-2 Grand Slam finals record against the Swiss man and that is because of a number of reasons. Firstly, if you watch old matches of Nadal facing Federer he loves to penetrate the backhand side of Federer. He loves to send heavy topspin to the one-handed backhand in order to get the short ball and in some cases to force Federer into error. Federer has to make the decision whether to hit through the one-handed backhand and play with more risk or whether to take a step back and wait for the ball to drop to an easier level to attack. These are some of the decisions that Federer has to internalise when coming up against the topspin of Nadal’s tennis balls.
Nadal also holds the advantage in the fact that they are playing during the Australian night under the lights at the Rod Laver Arena. Federer would prefer to have played in the day, where the ball zips through the air much quicker, whereas the conditions at night would slow down slightly. This suits the Spaniard.
With that being said, Federer has to look at the positives. Yes, Nadal commands a favourable head-to-head and has become Federer’s nemesis over the years. Yes, Nadal has never lost to Federer at the Australian Open. But Nadal is not unbeatable. The approach and mindset that Federer has to have is that if he matches the intensity and focus of Nadal then he has a shot and stands a good chance of softening the reading of the favourable head-to-head.
I think Nadal will come through and win his fifteenth Grand Slam title. The one ingredient that makes me edge towards Nadal is his ability to win matches when his back is against the wall. Even during his darkest days, he has always accepted the challenge ahead and continued to prove people wrong. A win on Sunday would give him undeniable amounts of confidence before he returns to his beloved clay courts later in the year.
Prediction: Nadal in four sets