When the two Champions entered the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday, it was truly like two Gladiators walking into the Colosseum.
Even before the match started, every tennis fan knew that this was likely to be the very last time the two eternal rivals would fight it out on the biggest stage of them all. And the duo didn't disappoint. A five-set classic that will live on through the sands of time untile someone somewhere on this planet hits the ball across the net. It was Federer who emerged victorious after over three and a half hours of breathtaking tennis that saw both players rekindle memories of a decade ago.
The biggest difference that resulted in Nadal's defeat on the Rod Laver Arena was that he played at the same level as he had played throughout the tournament, while Federer made sure he raised his game for the big occasion. Nadal's stats from his marathon semi-final clash against Grigor Dimitrov, aka baby Federer, were very similar to the numbers he put up in the final. His first serve percentage was exactly 73% in both matches while his percentage points won on the second serve was off by just one percent.
While serving has never been his strongest suit, Nadal served a mere four aces against the Swiss maestro, who looked like he knew where the Spaniard was going to place the ball. Federer, on the other hand, finished the match with 20 aces - 9 more than he had against Stan Wawrinka. His first serve and winning percentages on the first serve were up by 2 and 4 percent respectively.
Aces by service area
However, it wasn't that Nadal didn't play a good game in the final. In the semi-final against Dimitrov, Nadal got to the net 29 times winning the point on 25 occasions but against the Swiss, he was able to make the forward run just 12 times. Federer, too, made the foray just 40 times, 10 less than he did against his countryman Wawrinka in the semi-final, winning 29 points in doing so, but that could have been a mark of respect to Nadal whose passing shots had made Federer pay the price of leaving the baseline one too many times in the past.
Every tennis fan can attest to the fact that Federer has the most aesthetically pleasing backhand in the game. While Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray might possess other qualities that the 18-time Grand Slam winner lacks when it comes to the sheer pleasure of watching him play the others fall well short. But against Nadal, it wasn't just an artistic defensive stroke but as an attacking weapon that the Spaniard had no reply for. Federer won more than twenty points, many of them important ones, with his tremendous backhand, fourteen of which were too brilliant for Nadal to even get his racket close to the ball. While most players, cue Dimitrov in the semi-final, try to force Nadal to play on his "weak" backhand, Federer kept giving the ball to the Spaniard on his forehand and as soon as the latter made a small mistake, Federer pounced and took the point away.
Every tennis fan can attest to the fact that Federer has the most aesthetically pleasing backhand in the game. While Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray might possess other qualities that the 18-time Grand Slam winner
To risk or not to?
Nadal has worked hard to earn himself the name of being one of the best defensive players on tour. He has done it throughout his career and it was on display again in the final where he committed a lower number of unforced errors against Federer than he had against Dimitrov a couple of days ago. Against the Bulgarian, Nadal conceded 43 points due to missed shots but in the final, he drastically reduced that number to just 28. However, as they say, "The biggest risk is not taking any risk," and this was blatantly evident in the final as Nadal refrained from attempting too many shots that could cost him the point and played with the hope that Federer would commit the error that would give him the advantage. In the final set, when the true pressure arrived, Nadal committed 9 unforced errors, 2 more than he had in the second and fourth set, that the Spaniard won, combined. Federer, too, had nine unforced errors against his name but his 23 winners against Nadal's 13 made sure that he emerged victorious in the decider. The last time the duo met in Australian Open final Federer had 71 winners compared to Nadal's 50. In yesterday's game, however, the number stood at 73 and 35 in the Swiss' favor.
No one can disagree with the fact that Federer is a student of the game and he proved it again by changing his usual serving style on the advantage court to dig himself out of the hole he found himself in. In Nadal's quarter-final match, Milos Raonic served mostly on the Spaniard's forehand from the advantage court and picked up five Aces. While Dimitrov appeared to have missed this "apparent weakness" in Nadal's game, Federer did not. While a majority of his serves were down the T, he curbed his natural instincts and on pressure points managed to get seven aces on the Nadal's forehand - one of them a slow second serve, wrong-footing Nadal.
The biggest discussion on Twitter following the match was the whether Nadal was fully fit during the match having played an almost 5-hour semi-final against Dimitrov. In the first three sets, the set winner covered close to 10 meters more than his opponent. In the last two sets, however, Nadal covered approximately 25 and 70 meters more than Federer. He tried his level best to match the Swiss but it just wasn't meant to be. In all honesty, despite going, 3-1 up in the final set, Nadal never looked comfortable as he conceded 11 break points, he had conceded just five more in