Sunday, January 29, 2017
As I predicted, 35-year-old Roger Federer defeated 30-year-old Rafael Nadal in the finals of the 2017 Australian Open to win his 18th major title (5th Aussie Open), extending his lead at the top of the all-time men's grand slam singles leaderboard.
Playing for the 35th time and a record 9th major final, Federer's win over Nadal brought his record to 3-6 (3-2 in non-clay major finals) and changed the overall head-to-head to 23-12. It was the first time Federer had beaten Nadal at the Australian Open in four matches played and the first time he had won a major final since the 2012 Wimbledon, a drought of nearly four-and-a-half years after losing 3 consecutive major finals (2014 Wimbledon, 2015 Wimbledon, 2015 U.S. Open) to Novak Djokovic. It was the first time Federer won a 5th set in a major final since the 2009 Wimbledon win over Andy Roddick and the first time he had won a 5th set in a major final against Nadal since the 2007 Wimbledon final.
Men's Final Review: How The Title Was Won
R. Federer (SUI)  d. R. Nadal (ESP)  6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 in 3 hours and 38 minutes.
Federer had more than twice as many winners than Nadal (73 to 35) and nearly twice as many unforced errors as well (57 to 28). However, the match was of a very high quality, with Federer at +16 and Nadal at +7. The match was primarily played on Federer's terrain, he was forcing things by going for more although, somewhat surprisingly, this was not because of frequent serve-and-volley, although he was effective when he approached the net (29/40). The big difference in the match was Federer's backhand, which he hit flatter and with more pace and almost completely avoided his slice backhand entirely. He had 14 backhand winners for the match (to just 3 for Nadal). Forehand winners were closer, but again Federer had the edge there, 26 to 19. Clearly, Federer had learned some strategy from watching his fellow one-handed backhand players like Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov had handled Nadal recently.
I woke up at 3:15am EST and watched the entire match, was completely riveting. Each of the first four sets began with early service breaks which ended up being determinative, with the third set being extremely notable because Federer was able to end the set with a consolidated second service break (something Nadal was not able to do in the 2nd set, despite being up 4-0 at one point). So when the fifth set began with an early service break for Nadal things did not look good for our hero. Then when despite having multiple breakpoints in Nadal's first two service games Federer failed to break, memories of previous Fedal matches where Federer would go 1/10 or 3/20 on break points came to mind. Eventually, Nadal built up a 3-1 lead in the fifth set. Amazingly, Federer was able to win the last five games in a row to close out the match. How did that happen? In the sixth game Federer was finally able to get the service break back and he held serve easily to go up 3-4 in the deciding set. In the epic 8th game Federer went up 40-0 on Nadal's serve but incredibly Nadal was able to save three consecutive breakpoints and get back to deuce. Amazingly, it took 2 more breakpoints (the 10th and 11th of the set!) before Nadal finally succumbed and Federer went up 5-3 to serve for the championship. That game did not start well with Nadal blistering a service return winner on the backhand side and another forced error, eventually led to a 5-3,15-40 situation for Federer. Down the stretch his serve bailed him out of trouble and two first serves got him back to deuce and on his first championship point Federer sent a forehand long. Happily, he was able to again serve an ace to earn a second championship point and this time he hit a forehand smack on the line which Nadal immediately challenged (even though the linesman called it good) so there was a brief pause until the computer could confirm that the ball was indeed in and the match was over!
Federer had (finally) won his 18th major title, doing it the hard way as the #17 seed by beating four Top 10 seeds (#10 Tomas Berdych, #5 Kei Nishikori, #3 Stan Wawrinka and #9 Rafael Nadal) and winning 3 five set matches along the way (Nishikori, Wawrinka and Nadal). He finally defeated his arch-nemesis at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in nearly a decade (the 2007 Wimbledon final). Amazingly, Federer achieved all this while playing in his first tournament since the 2016 Wimbledon, a injury-induced layoff of over 6 months. By increasing his lead in major singles titles over Nadal (and Pete Sampras) to four (18 to 14) Federer cements his status as the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) and makes it more likely this record will outlast the Big Four era since World #1 Andy Murray currently has 3 major titles and World #2 Novak Djokovic has 12.
Happy Federer Wins Day!