Nadal’s domination of Federer continues

Published : Feb 07, 2009 00:00 IST



The world No. 1 showed great resourcefulness to overcome the Swiss in a match where competitiveness, perhaps more than skill, decided the winner. By Jon Henderson.

Truly remarkable. Less than a year ago Rafael Nadal was regarded as the Spanish clay-court specialist who would be hard pressed to win a major title on any surface other than the terre battue of the French Open. Now, with his prodigious victory over Roger Federer in the Australian Open final, he joins American Andre Agassi as the only player in the past 24 years to have won a Grand Slam title on each of the outdoor surfaces: clay, grass and hard courts.

Last July, by beating Federer in that epic Wimbledon final, Nadal confounded the theory that with a game made for clay he could never win on the skiddy grass courts of the All England Club.

And now, in his first Grand Slam final on a hard court, he has succeeded where no Spaniard has before by winning the Australian Open with a thrilling 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2 victory over Federer, who remains stalled on 13 major titles, one behind Pete Sampras’s record.

Nadal’s tally now stands at six Grand Slams titles — four French, one Wimbledon and one Australian — and in all but the first of these, the 2005 French when he beat Mariano Puerta to take the title, the player he has beaten in the final has been Federer.

“I have always liked the competition more than the tennis,” Nadal, 22, said recently, and maybe here we have the key to the Australian Open final result and all those other victories over the Swiss master. Although it must be a difficult choice, you suspect Federer prefers the tennis to the competition — and why wouldn’t he with a game as polished and beautiful as his?

Sheer combative will saw Nadal through in a match in which the odds were heaped against him, not only because of Federer’s hard-court pedigree but because of the soreness he must still have felt after spending more than five hours either side of midnight on January 30 and 31 winning his semifinal against a fellow Spaniard, Fernando Verdasco.

More specifically, the consistency of Nadal’s groundstrokes, in their brutality and accuracy, did in Federer in what was a desperately tight match until the No. 2 seed, the winner at Melbourne in 2004, 2006 and 2007, ran out of steam as the match entered its fifth hour.

In keeping with the standard practice, Nadal applied pressure throughout on the Federer backhand — and when the Spaniard applies pressure it comes close to contravening the Geneva Convention. Federer, knowing what to expect, withstood it grimly, but in the end it was all too much.

Of course there was much else to admire from the Spaniard, not least the sheer resourcefulness of coming to his first hard-court final in a Grand Slam and managing to upstage one of the great masters of the surface. He was far more aggressive than against Verdasco, when he was content to trade rallies from way behind the baseline. Now he looked for every opportunity to keep them as short as possible, even on occasions involving himself in volleying exchanges close to the net.

Federer made an inauspicious start, mis-hitting three times in the first game to drop serve. His play remained uneven for the rest of the set. Although he surged ahead 4-2 with two breaks of his own, he was destabilised by a furious fightback by Nadal. Behind 2-4 and 15-30 on the Federer serve, Nadal pulled out brilliant winners with a flicked forehand and backhand across court that so deflated his opponent that he ceded the point — and mastery of the opening set — with a double fault.

Invariably when faced with a crisis — or a mini-crisis, as it was at this early stage — Federer responds by rediscovering his best form. At 2-3 he was a break behind in the second set and his game was spluttering ominously. Cue a complete turnaround with Federer dominating the remainder of the set, as his groundstrokes finally started to flow, to level the match.

The third set was key for although Nadal, having pick-pocketed it in a tiebreak after saving six break points in his last two service games, then conceded the fourth set, he was to prove the stronger player in the decider, despite his exertions against Verdasco.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

More stories from this issue

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment