It’s the dream final that everyone wanted, Rafa vs Roger, a promoter’s Garden of Eden. The Australian open can thank some higher power for what’s transpired these two weeks in the men’s draw.
Just think of all the’ what ifs’ that could have happened that would have prevented this final. Murray plays error-ridden tennis in a shock loss to lefty serve volleyer Mischa Zverev (sounds like a European supermodel), Murray would have played Federer in a Quarter Final. Djokvoic is uncharacteristically flat in a 5 set loss to ‘I’m coached by my mother Denis Istomin’ in the 2nd round. If the seeding’s had have held Novak would have played Rafa in a semi-final.
Even last night Dimitrov is up 4-3 in the 5th set, had two break points on Rafa’s serve, he couldn’t convert, suffers a letdown, Rafa breaks serve then serves out the match, a narrow escape. For Federer the first sign of life that he could make a run here was a straight set blow out of perennial under-achiever Tomas Berdych in 3rd round. What followed was a 5 set victory over Nishikori, a straight set demolition of the European Supermodel, followed by a 5 set thriller against Stan in the semi.
What we are left with is history. A clash of two icons vying for the Greatest of all time. Just think of the implications of this match, in the Grand Slam total Roger is ahead with 17, Rafa is currently tied with Sampras at 14 Slams. If Roger wins on Sunday night, he’ll be on 18, distancing himself from Rafa which would be a tough ask for the man from Mallorca to run down the 4 Slam buffer.
If Rafa wins he’ll be at 15, only two behind Roger and with the French Open looming Rafa will taste blood in the water to hit 16 Slams, which would leave him only one behind Federer, so as new Hall of Fame future inductee Andy Roddick put it the other day “this could be the most important match of all time”, he is right, there are huge historical implications in play.
Breaking down the numbers from a head to head perspective, Rafa is well ahead, 23-11 overall and 3-0 at the Australian Open. Even the outdoor hard-court matchup is gloomy for Federer, its 8-3 Nadal. The last victory for Federer on a hard-court was Indian Wells five years ago. The Swiss may need to look at the intangibles for an edge. The court in Melbourne is playing quick, which helps him to hold serve and he’s had an extra days’ rest, Rafa’s knees aren’t what they used to be so it will be interesting to see how he recovers from the almost 5 hour epic against Dimitrov.
As popular as Rafa is the crowd will be for Federer, I’d say 70%, which could be a factor in the 4th or 5th set if they get there. Expect the points to go like this, on Rafa’s serve he’ll serve to Federer’s backhand about 90%, then try to hit forehands into Federer’s backhand high and deep, he’ll look for a short ball and go for the kill shot into the open court.
On Federer’s serve he’ll just get back as many serves as possible, try to get the rally to neutral then start the forehand to backhand dynamic, again wait for something short and go for the kill shot with his forehand.
The only way for Federer to win this match is he has to serve well. A lot of aces/unreturnables, maybe even some serve/volley, the more rallies there are his chances diminish, especially over 5 sets. On Rafa’s serve he has to take chances, in the first set at least run around some second serves and boom the forehand, at least make Rafa think you could run around his second serve.
In the rallies Roger has to take chances, any rally over 5 or 6 shots Rafa will win 75% of the time, Roger has to mix it up, slices, chip and charge, whatever it takes to interrupt Rafa’s rhythm.
I wouldn’t say Federer has to win the first set but in 9 of their Grand Slam matches where Rafa has won the first set; the Spaniard has gone on to win 7 of them, so Federer’s odds greatly diminish if he can’t win the opening set.
Ok, time for a prediction. The pressure is undoubtedly on both players, this could be the last time they play in a Grand Slam final, I think Federer will rise to the occasion, he knows he has to take risks and he has shown enough during the tournament that he can play at a high level for longish periods of time. I just don’t believe it will be enough, Rafa will stick to the formula which has won him 23 out of 34 matches, as he showed against Dimitrov when he is on the ropes he buckles down and just won’t give in, I say Rafa in 4 sets. Whoever wins enjoy watching history unfold.