In the pantheon of men’s tennis greats, Roger Federer has stood alone for a long time. He owns the all-time record for Grand Slam titles, as well as weeks at World #1. His dominance in the 2000s was something that the tennis world has never really seen, certainly not for the length of time that Federer dominated.
The one player that has stood between Federer and unquestioned invincibility is Rafael Nadal. If not for Nadal and his dominance at the French Open, we are most likely talking about 11 straight Slam wins for Federer from 2005-2007, as well as at least seven more Slam titles overall. If there is no Nadal standing in his way, Federer probably remains World #1 for at least an extra year. Federer stands at the pinnacle of men’s tennis history, but Nadal stands close behind him. If not for Nadal, Federer’s lead over the field of tennis history is staggering.
It seems fitting, then, that when Federer reaches his first Grand Slam final in over a year–at the age of after a six-month hiatus from tennis, on top of that–that the player standing between Federer and a legendary 18th Grand Slam title be none other than Rafael Nadal.
Roger Federer Defeats Rafael Nadal, Wins Record 18th Grand Slam
The match started off a little slowly for Federer, as he struggled to get first serves in during his first two games. Nadal, as he is wont to do, went after the Federer backhand. Federer’s backhand was up to the task, though, and he eventually carved out a break point chance, which he took. Federer then picked up his first-serve percentage, winning 93% of points on his first serve throughout the set. Two holds after the break, and Federer took the set 6-4.
Federer’s first-serve percentage seemed to continue to be the key, as he was broken on his first service game of the second set while only managing 50% first serves. Nadal earned a second break to start the set out with a 4-0 lead, but Federer immediately starting swinging more freely and earned back one of the breaks. That second break proved decisive, however, as Nadal held twice to take the second set 6-3.
In the third set, though, it was Federer’s turn to open with a break. Federer’s backhand never broke down and never wavered, and some incredible shotmaking as well as pinpoint serving led Federer to a very quick 3-0 lead in the set. Federer earned another break and served out the set at 6-1. In the fourth set, though, it was Nadal’s turn to get an early break. After holding out for the set, we were going five.
The most telling part of this match was Federer’s backhand. Not only did it never break down–like it has been wont to do in his career against Nadal’s heavy topspin his entire career. If his backhand had been this impressive against Nadal for all of those years, perhaps the introduction to this article would have looked very different.
However, there was still the problem of some serious Nadal momentum to work through. Nadal opened the fifth set with a break, and the usual result felt all-but inevitable. Federer, however, broke back for 3-3 when a Nadal forehand went wide, and all of a sudden it was a win-by-two match to three sets. Federer then held to love, and all of a sudden all the momentum was on the Swiss’ side. When Federer opened up 0-40 on Nadal’s next service game, the opposite now felt inevitable. Nadal saved all three, and a fourth, but Federer took his fifth break point chance and was just four points away from victory. Nadal was not going to give up without some drama, taking the first two points on Federer’s service game. Nadal opened up two break points, but Federer saved both and held to win the match.
This win puts Federer in a rarefied air. While the cross-sport comparisons often fall flat, the number 18 in terms of Grand Slam titles has been the Holy Grail of men’s sports, as Jack Nicklaus’ number has never been matched. Now, the Golden Bear of tennis has to move over and let the Swiss Maestro of tennis stand beside him.
Where does Federer go from here? He just showed that he can still beat the best in the world in best-of-five matches over two weeks. Does Federer have a #19 in him? How much longer can he play at this level? Those wondering about Federer’s eventual retirement will have to wonder longer–if he’s still winning Slams now, there is no reason to even think about hanging up his racket for a long time.