(17) Roger Federer (SUI) vs (9) Rafael Nadal (ESP)
To say that this is a dream matchup would be a gross understatement. Arguably the two greatest men to have ever played the game face off tonight to fittingly cap off what has been a sensational two weeks at the Australian Open.
Both players have returned superbly from their respective injury layoffs and have produced close to some of their best tennis throughout the last fortnight. Roger has served well and is hitting his groundstrokes beautifully whilst we have also seen the Rafa of old with lightning court speed, tremendous hustle and that trademark massive forehand.
Historically Rafa has had a significant edge over Roger and holds a 23-11 record. However if you remove their 15 clay-court encounters from the equation, (a surface we all know heavily favours Nadal), their record is almost even. On hard courts, Rafa still has a slight edge (9-7) but this surface makes for a much more even playing field between the two.
The Roger / Rafa rivalry has been synonymous with producing some of the best tennis matches in modern history and they will face-off for a 35th time this evening. This match has the makings of an absolute classic and it may well be the last time we see these two living legends battle it out in a Grand Slam final.
How Roger Federer will win…
I expect Roger to serve very well as he has done all tournament. Tonight he will need to hit the right spots and get plenty of free points off his first serve. It’s also crucial that he takes his chances when presented with any break opportunities on Nadal’s serve. Grigor Dimitrov had two break points at 3-4 in the 5th set in the semi against Nadal but wasn’t able to capitilise. Federer will need to take these chances if he gets them. Watch for Roger to attack the Nadal 2nd serve in an effort to get on top of the point early as he will need to be super aggressive and keep the points short. This is a big key for him if he is to win tonight as he can’t let Nadal dictate the rallies from the baseline. If Nadal drops any rally shots short, Roger must come into the court and put them away for a winner. Rafa is also one of the toughest opponents to hit a winner against so Federer will need to be striking the ball extremely well.
How Rafael Nadal will win…
Over the years, Rafa has engineered and executed a game-plan that is specifically designed to beat Roger Federer. Nadal has relentlessly attacked the one-handed backhand of Federer with his big cross-court forehand and I expect him to attempt this strategy again tonight. Look for Nadal to control the points and run Federer around behind the baseline and prevent him from getting inside the court and hitting an aggressive shot. If Nadal can pin Federer to the back of the court and force him to go for even bigger shots both wings, the errors will come.
As Andy Roddick pointed out, this could be one of the biggest matches in the history of the sport. Currently Roger sits on 17 Grand Slam wins with Rafa not far behind him at 14. If Federer wins tonight he will move to 18 major wins, a number that may never be matched. On the other hand, if Nadal wins, he moves to 15 major wins with his favourite French Open just a few months away. The implications of this match on the Grand Slam ladder are massive and both men will be well aware of this.
Federer and Nadal have delighted crowds with some of their best tennis over the past fortnight and tonight should be no different. Nadal seems to have the edge over Federer whenever they play and I think this may play a big part in tonight’s result. Nadal has the game to beat Roger and has a good record of executing it in the major finals. Whilst I expect tonight’s match to be close, I expect Rafa to be too strong.
Nadal in 4 sets.