Sunday, January 29, 2017

Australian Open Men's Final Proves to be a Classic!

Rafael Nadal

Photo courtesy of Yann Caradec's Flickr Page - Rafael Nadal:

Yes, what a match!

This one was a championship for the ages! It featured two of the greatest tennis legends of all time in Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and both men had so much at stake, that this might indeed have been just about the biggest and most important Grand Slam final ever!

Think about it: neither man had won a Grand Slam title in years, but this appearance together not only renewed one of the greatest rivalries in the sport's history, but it also assured that one of them finally would win another. I also seriously believe that it  was crucial in determining who would best be remembered as the greatest men's tennis player of at least this generation, if not outright of all-time. Now, that might sound quite dramatic, but think about it: most assume that Federer is the greatest of all time. But with a loss, Nadal would only trail him by two Grand Slam titles, and would absolutely own the head-to-head rivalry, with Federer only having won huge showdowns between the two early on, arguably before Nadal reached full strength. Plus, with a win, Nadal would become the only man in almost half a century to have won each Grand Slam title multiple times. Finally, Nadal managed to win the Olympic gold medal, which Federer tried to do in each Olympics dating back to the Sydney Olympics in the year 2000! Nadal and Andre Agassi are the only two men to have won what is called the career "Golden Slam" (winning each of the four Grand Slams, as well as an Olympic gold medal), but a win here in Melbourne would make Nadal the only man to have won the gold medal and to have won each Grand Slam multiple times.

So, yes, a lot was at stake in this match!

Federer came in holding the record of 17 career Grand Slam titles, the most of any man in tennis history. However, Nadal was tied with the second most career Grand Slam titles, with 14. Federer may have won more than anyone else, but entering this particular match, the one man that he had not enjoyed much success against was Nadal. They had met in 11 Grand Slam matches prior to this one, and Nadal had won all but two, and those two came quite early in his career, before he reached his peak strength.

With a victory, Nadal would have pulled ahead of the tie with Sampras, and would moved three ahead of Djokovic, the only other active men's player who has compiled comparable levels of Grand Slam success. He would have pulled to within two of Federer, and would have become the first man in half a century to have claimed each of the Grand Slam championships multiple times.

For Federer, a victory over Nadal would have exorcised one of the few remaining demons to haunt his career. This was the one man who had a major advantage over him throughout his career, and made Federer look very human on numerous occasions. Also, it would be a fifth Australian Open championship, which would make him the first man in history to have captured three of the individual Grand Slams at least five times each (he won seven Wimbledon titles, and has won five US Open and Australian Open titles).

And so, here was this unbelievable match, the one that we could hardly dare to dream about!

Federer came out looking almost perfect in taking the first set fairly easily, but Nadal's physicality took the second set for him.

The third set went once again to Federer, but again, Nadal bounced back with a punishing physical game that earned him the fourth set, and even saw him get the early break in the fifth and final, deciding set.

At that point, it was all too easy to see Nadal basically smothering Federer the rest of the way.
Somehow, though, the Fed battled back, making Nadal work hard for each service game, before he finally broke through to tie the set at 3-3. Federer then held service, and shockingly, broke Nadal again, to go up 5-3.

That elusive record 18th Grand Slam title was in sight, and Federer got a little nervous. It showed, as he made some mental errors that could easily have proven far more costly. Ultimately, though, he settled down, and in a contentious final game, he served up another win, one that will be remembered!

What a classic rivalry, and what an unbelievable, memorable match that we tennis fans were treated to today! A great effort and show was put on by both men, and both illustrated their high degree of class after the match, as well.

One could not help but think afterwards that this is what tennis is supposed to be about!

Federer and Nadal took the court in another Grand Slam final, and perhaps the two best tennis players of all time produced true greatness together once again!

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