Nadal outlasts Federer in Australian Open Classic

February 1, 2009

Rafael Nadal won the Australian Open last night defeating Roger Federer in another 5-set epic, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2. In what is probably the world's greatest individual sports rivalry, the world's #1 player denied Federer in his bid to tie Pete Sampras for the all-time record with 14 grand slam titles and improved his record to 13-6 in head to head mathcups. The 27-year old Federer remains stuck on 13 titles thanks to an incredible display of mental strength and tenacity from the 22-year old Spaniard.

In a quirk of scheduling, Federer was able to finish his semifinal match on Thursday and rest on Friday night before Saturday night's final. On the other hand, Nadal played his semifinal match on Friday. That five set victory over fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco took 5 hours, 14 minutes, the longest match of the tournament's history. It was thought that if the Final against Federer went long, that conditioning would favor the world's #2.

However despite the 4 hour, 22-minute length of the match, it was Federer who made the errors in the 5th set, allowing his serve to be broken twice while Nadal won a dominating 16 of 19 points on his own serve. For the match, Federer also was unable to capitalize on his break point opportunities, converting only 6 of 19 points. Much of that was attributable to Nadal's refusal to fold under pressure and his history of getting the better of Federer in head to head competition.

The win marks Nadal's first Australian Open Chamionship and his 6th grand slam victory (4 French, 1 Wimbledon, and 1 Australian), making him the second youngest to reach that feat (Bjorn Borg was just six months younger). The two players last Grand Slam matchup had been the Wimbledon final, a 5-set victory for Nadal which very possibly could be the greatest match ever played (only the 1980 Borg-McEnroe Wimbledon Final compares).

I was left with several thoughts in my head after this match.

1. Does this match signal that the reign of Nadal as the unquestioned king of tennis has begun?

No. While many might seek to read a permanent "changing of the guard" with this victory by Nadal, people should remember that such conclusions were also made after the Wimbledon match as well yet it was Federer who went on to win the U.S Open.

2. What is Federer's place in history right now?

He still might be the greatest ever. There is no doubt that Nadal has consistently had the upper hand when the two play. What is incredible is that despite this fact, many people justifiably still believe Federer may be the greatest player in the history of the game. Federer has reached the semifinals in a ridiculous 19 consecutive Grand Slam finals. The other player of the past 30 years who might be considererd the greatest, Pete Sampras, never reached more than 3 in a row.

3. Could Nadal ultimately be considered the greatest tennis player ever?

It is not out of the question, but it is premature. Remember that Nadal has never won at the U.S Open yet. However, if he does then he, unlike Federer who has never won on the clay at the French Open, will have won all 4 Grand Slam Tournaments. Furthermore Nadal and Federer are so far out in front of everyone else that if Federer is slipping just enough, Nadal is capable of racking up an astonishing number of Grand Slam titles to make his case. Of course we must remember their was a time when Federer looked like he had no peer as well and then Nadal came along...

4. Is this the greatest rivalry in tennis history?

Yes. While it has been clear for a couple of years now that this rivalry is among the greats of the modern era (Borg-Connors, Borg-McEnroe, McEnroe-Connors, McEnroe-Lendl, Becker-Edberg, and Sampras-Agassi being the others), it must now be recognized how special this is. If you read the answers to questions #2 and #3 you probably understand why. These two are far and away the best two players in the sport. Further, it is possible that either may end up viewed as the greatest ever. The only other rivalry that comes close is Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe but Borg's early retirement at 26 makes that one have to settle for #2.

5. If this rivalry is that good, why does it get relatively little publicity?

Aside from the fact that the sport of tennis does not have the stature it once might have had, there is a more insiduous reason. Neither player is American. It is this silly nationalism that is the only real reason and without massive coverage by the American media this country is not likely to truly appreciate what is going on right now.

Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

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