Australian Open 2017 - Men’s final
Roger makes it 18
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer made their way to the final in an impressive way. Both had to fight against tough opponents. It quite extraordinary that they’re both in the final. When Roger and Rafa met last year in Mallorca for the opening of Rafa’s new tennis academy, they talked about organising a charity match. Who would have thought that just a few months later they would face each other again on the big stage, in Rod Laver Arena, one of the greatest tennis stadiums in the world. They both struggled during 2016 season - Rafa had a serious wrist injury that forced him to withdraw from his favourite French Open and miss Wimbledon. Roger played in Wimbledon and following his loss in the semis against Milos Raonic he decided finish the season and nurse his knee and back injury. He came to Australia in the beginning of January and everyone was curious to see how he would be playing after a long break. He played some decent matches in the Hopman Cup in Perth but Australian Open was to be his first real test. Rafa also returned to Australia looking strong, he played in Brisbane and Sydney as well in an exhibition event. When Djokovic lost in the 2nd round to Denis Istomin, the draw opened up rather nicely for Rafa and he took the advantage. With Djokovic’s loss, at least on paper, it was Andy Murray’s tournament to win but when he lost rather unexpectedly to Misha Zverev, the draw was wide open for Roger. Well, kind of. He still had to face strong players to make his way to the final. First defeat Andy’s conquerer and then face his compatriot Stan Wawrinka in the semis. He passed both tests with flying colours, but he did have to fight hard for it. After beating Wawrinka and making his way to the final, we all waited anxiously to see whether Rafa would defeat Grigor Dimitrov to set up the dream ’Fedal’ final. When he defeated Dimitrov after a hard fought 5 set battle we knew we were in for a treat.
So here they were - the 2 best players of their generation with 31 singles major titles to their name - Roger 17 and Rafa 14, both making a comeback to the tour after injuries, both in great form. On paper Rafa was seen as the favourite leading their head to head 23 to 11. But in tennis the statistics are one thing and a playing a professional best of 5 match another.
They both came out very focused and fired up. From the first point we could see it would be a high quality match. In the first set, Roger was the first one take initiative. He secured his first break of serve for 4:3 lead and consolidated the lead with a love service game. Rafa held on to his serve but couldn't do much when Roger served aces to seal the set. He took it 6:4 for a 1:0 lead. In the second set, the momentum shifted quickly, this time in Rafa’s favour. In the second set, we saw a sudden shift of momentum, as Rafa was able to quickly build a 3:0 lead. He earned his 2nd break of the set after Roger committed another forehand error. Roger fought back and broke back straight away but still trailed Rafa 1:4. He held his serve for the first time in the second set but Rafa was still a break up. Rafa held to love 2 more times and levelled the match 1 set all after winning the set 6:3. Roger made a comeback and took the third 6:1 for a 2:1 lead. In the forth set Roger who was serving from behind was broken after he sent backhand volley to the net and Rafa took the lead 3:1. Rafa held. Roger went up 30:0 on his serve but Rafa eventually earned a break point at 30:40. Roger served aces to hold for 2:4. Rafa made no mistake to hold his service game to love, and a few minutes later served it out 6:3. The match had to go the distance. Roger left the court for a medical timeout. At this point of the match it was Rafa who looked more consistent. He quickly broke for a 2:0 lead but Roger battled hard to level for 3 all in the fifth. Roger then held to love after firing a second serve ace to lead 4:3. In the next game Rafa missed two forehands and found himself 0:30 down. Roger saw an opening at a crucial stage of the match. Nerves got the better of Rafa and he double faulted to give Roger three break point to look at. Rafa saved the first one with a massive forehand down the line, the second with a huge serve that Roger was unable to return and the third when Roger sent a backhand return wide. Boom! Deuce. Forehand down the line earned Roger a forth break point in the game but Rafa wouldn't quit. He saved it with a massive serve down the middle. Roger then came up with a brilliant forehand shot to earn his fifth opportunity to break. He returned a backhand crosscourt that forced Rafa to send a forehand into the net. Roger broke Rafa’s serve! After a brilliant return game he earned the opportunity to serve for the title. The best game of the match from Roger. It was time to serve it out. Rafa produced a stunning backhand return winner. Roger misses a backhand and found himself 0:30 down. Roger served and ace but Rafa still found a way to earn himself two break points with a brilliant backhand shot. Roger served an ace but was still a break point down 30:40. Then Roger produced a stunning forehand inside out for deuce. He earned his first match point. He sent the forehand long. Back to deuce. Roger came up with another ace to earn his second championship point. Rafa’s return was too short, Roger sends a massive forehand crosscourt. The ball touched the line, didn't it? Silence in Rod Laver Arena. There is a challenge. Roger watched the screen nervously and smiled. It’s all over! Roger’s done it! He has won his 18th major and he beat none other than the great Rafa Nadal in the final
During the ceremony both players praised each other. “I don’t think either of us believed we’d be in the finals,” Roger said before paying tribute to Nadal. “I’m happy for you. I would have been happy to lose, to be honest. The comeback was as perfect as it was.”
Rafa said: “Today was a great match. Roger deserved it a bit more than me. I’m just going to keep trying. I feel I am back at a very high level, so I’m going to carry on fighting the whole season.”
Unbelievable night for the 35 year-old Roger Federer. After 4,5 years since his last major win (at Wimbledon), he finally wins again. For the the 18th time in his rich tennis career. We are blessed to watch these two legends play. The Australian Open may be over but it shows a great promise for the rest of the season, and let’s hope it’s a great one.