Sunday, February 01, 2009

Coming of a legend (and fading of another?)

Australian Open Final 2009
Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer - 7-5 3-6 7-6 (7-3) 3-6 6-2

It could be billed as a bout between extremes - young vs old, style vs substance, brains vs brawn. As it turned out, it was a great advertisement for substance; as brawn prevailed over brains(not implying that Nadal's game doesn't have its own subtlety). Nadal's winning his first grand slam on hard court, on the heels of his first-ever grass court grand slam win at Wimbledon last year, added to his implausibly brilliant record on clay has the feeling of a defining moment in tennis history. This is the point from where he can go from being the best player of his time, to becoming the best player of all time. I know, its too soon. But he is just 22. He has a lot of time to improve his already awesome game. And playing against (not to mention beating regularly) a legend like Federer can only help his cause. This was a good match. Not quite an epic, but surely one to be remembered as the one that sent Nadal on the way to legendhood. Fittingly, he had to beat an existing legend to do that.

1st set - It started off all wrong. Nadal, the one who had just come off a 5-setter was the one who started more emphatically and Federer, the one with the longer rest, looked unsure, hesitant and dare I say it, scared? No surprise then that Nadal won the first set.

2nd set - Federer gained in assurance, reflected in an increasing number of winners and aces. Not to mention fewer unforced errors. Second easily to Federer.

3rd set - Nadal comes roaring back after losing the 2nd set cheaply. An increase in the number of unforced errors belies his fatigue, although there are no visible signs of exhaustion. This is where he starts an awesome run of winners. He doesn't just win points, he CONJURES them out of hopeless situations. 4/4 in 3rd set, and down 0-40, Nadal holds to make it 5-4. Is this the defining moment of the match? (He goes on to save 13 of 19 break points!) Nadal wins the set in tiebreak.

4th set - Federer starts strongly. 2-0. Its as if he has decided to play only the even sets well; not a good idea! Nadal comes back 2-2. Federer makes it 3-2. A certain inevitability when Federer takes the 4th set. After all, this is a grand-slam final between the world's best 2 players. It has to be a 5 setter.

5th set - An anticlimax. So many unforced errors from Federer. He seemed in a hurry for the match to end. This is one aspect of his game I'd like to see a change in. When it comes to the crunch, he just seems to lack the defiance and fight that Nadal epitomises. I hope this is just my mistaken assumption and that the next time we see these two go at it, we'll see a much closer match all the way to the final point.

For now, I hope this is not the end of Federer. I would like to see him set a new grand slam record before he fades away. Meanwhile, Rafa enjoys all the accolades. Hopefully we'll witness his indefatigable spirit and almost superhuman will to win in many more grand slam finals.

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