We’ve been looking forward to this…
This Sunday sees arguably the two greatest players of all time going head to head in the Australian Open Final. For years, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal dominated men’s tennis, taking the game to previously unseen heights and captivating the world in the process.
In the last five years, Nadal and Federer have slowly slipped into the shadows as injuries (and time) have caught up with the two legends. With Novak Djokovic emerging to sweep pretty much all before him, it seemed that this brilliant rivalry would be consigned to history. However, both Djokovic and Sir Andy Murray’s shock early exits at this year’s Australian Open have left the door open, and these two famous warhorses have barged through it.
Nadal leads the head-to-head battle between these two, taking 23 wins to Roger’s 11, but that will count for nothing on Sunday. Here, we look at the three best matches between these two legends.
Three: 2007 Wimbledon Final – Federer 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2
The prequel to arguably the greatest tennis match ever, but more on that later.
Twelve months before their 2008 epic, Federer and Nadal played out a five-set thriller on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. This time, Federer came out on top to claim a fifth straight Wimbledon crown, but he was pushed all the way by Nadal.
Back in 2007, Nadal was established as the best clay court player in the world, after winning a third French Open title in June. However, doubts remained about his ability on the grass. Here, he almost put an end to those doubts with a thrilling display, before totally destroying them a year later.
Nadal is one of the greatest warriors of all time, refusing to ever acknowledge when he is beaten. You need a fish slice to scrape him off a tennis court at times, such is his unshakeable belief. However, even here he would have been forgiven for having doubts. After losing the first and third sets in two brilliant tie-breaks, Nadal was two sets to one down and staring down the barrel.
But Nadal came right back, playing mind-blowing tennis to take the fourth set 6-2. The Centre Court crowd were almost stunned. Who was this pretender daring to take Federer’s crown? Surely he couldn’t dethrone the King? He couldn’t…at least not yet. Federer raised his level once again to claim the final set 6-2 and claim yet another win at SW19. However, Nadal had fired his warning shot…
Two: 2009 Australian Open Final – Nadal 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2
Well, this was a cracker. And it’s not even their best match ever. Seven years before Sunday’s showpiece, these two went head-to-head down under. This was Nadal’s first ever Australian Open Final, but he was far from overawed by the occasion. Instead, he thrived under the pressure and played a level of tennis we hadn’t yet seen from him on a hard court.
The first two sets were shared as each player took at in turns to beat the hell out of the other. In the end, the third set tie-break proved crucial. Nadal took it after hitting a series of breathtaking winners, before Federer double faulted to hand the set over.
Was the Swiss distraught after losing that set? Not a bit of it. Federer raced into a 2-0 lead in the fourth before being pegged back. However, a marathon game at 2-2 swung the momentum back in Federer’s favour as he survived five break points to hold. He then broke Nadal to take control of the set, which he then won to take the match into a fifth set.
As the match reached a fifth set, it became clear that Federer was tiring. Nadal, who could probably run for days, remained strong and broke the Swiss player’s serve for a second time at 5-2 to take the title. It was after midnight when the match was over, but those who stayed up late were treated to an absolute classic.
One: 2008 Wimbledon Final – Nadal 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7
Quite simply the best match ever. Everything was on the line at Wimbledon as Nadal and Federer contested a third straight Wimbledon Final. It was third time lucky for Nadal as he won a first Wimbledon title.
While Nadal was chasing a first title on the grass, Federer was trying to win at Wimbledon for the sixth time in a row. With the number one ranking also on the line, the stakes could hardly be higher. And both men delivered big time.
The match stats prove just how amazing a match this was. Federer hit a staggering 89 winners and 25 aces. Nadal was not quite as spectacular, but far more consistent, hitting just 27 unforced errors and breaking serve four times.
Nadal took the first two sets 6-4, somehow surviving a barrage of Federer winners, whilst occasionally serving (pun intended) up some brilliance of his own. At two sets up, you could have forgiven Nadal for thinking he was about to finally claim the most coveted prize in the sport. But back came Federer.
Although he only broke serve once in the entire match, Federer was a constant threat to the Nadal serve and his ability to get a hold of Nadal’s serve proved crucial as he took the third set 7-6 after a brief rain delay. With the crowd enthralled by the action, Federer survived two Championship points in a fourth set tie-break before taking the match into a deciding set. With the rain returning, it looked like this classic match would have to continue the next day. But back they came.
With the light fading, both men came within a couple of points of glory, before Nadal finally broke Federer to serve for the title. And he did. As a Federer shot hit the net, Nadal hit the ground in exhaustion/celebration. After nearly five hours, Nadal had finally won his first Wimbledon title. With the time well past 9pm and the roof not due on Centre Court for another year, the match finished in near total darkness.
With the stadium illuminated by camera flashes, the sun was shining on the man from Majorca.
Will he win a 15th Grand Slam title on Sunday? Or will Federer make it number 18 after nearly five years without a major title? We can’t wait to find out!