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Published:February 4th, 2009 18:36 EST
Australian Open

Nadal Comes Out Victorious In Australian Open

By Christopher HIllenbrand

Although it took him well past midnight Sunday morning, Rafael Nadal finally overcame his long-time archrival Roger Federer in five nail-biting sets at the Australian Open. Before the heralded seventh match-up of the two titans, Nadal had won five ATP Majors (all of which boiled down to defeating Federer) on clay and grass, but no titles on a hard court surface. In ATP Grand Slam competition, Nadal now has a 5 to 2 winning record against Roger Federer, having also bested him 3 times at the French Open and once at Wimbledon. With the win, Nadal now possesses a 13 to 6 record against Roger lifetime and has beaten the surefire hall-of-famer 3 out of the last 4 ATP Majors. It was the first time a Spaniard won the Australian Open`s Men`s Singles Final


While Federer and Nadal won each of their first service games, Roger jumped ahead by holding on to his second service and stymieing Nadal`s service game to give him the 4-2 edge. A double-fault cost Roger a break point in the next game. With the advantage of serving at 5-5, Roger squandered his opportunity to break the tie by making a rare forehand mistake resulting in a 15-40 score. Nadal responded with a cross-court forehand winner to give him the break and held his serving game to take the 1st set 7 games to 5.


At the start of the 2nd set, it appeared as if Federer was off his game as Nadal dominated his service game and took advantage of the Swiss being reluctant about charging towards the net. But then Roger began making fewer unforced errors and more winners by way of the greatest forehand in the world . With the set tied at 3, Federer broke Rafa`s next two service games. The second service game came down to five break points for Roger before he converted the last to give him the 5-3 upper hand. Roger then held by a score of 6 games to 3.


Both players were now in prime form for the evening. Like their legendary clash at Wimbledon last year, they pieced together volleying exchanges that exceeded 20 shots at times. Nadal saved six break chances in his final two service games to gain the lead at 5 games to 6. Federer yet again demonstrated why his serve is still regarded as the finest as he staved off a set point and evened the score at 6, causing the set to go down to a tiebreaker. Rafa dazzled the crowd with an off-balance backhand winner, giving him a 6 to 3 advantage before Roger double-faulted to give Nadal the set.


Federer dominated the 4th set from start to finish. He saved 5 break points on his third service game to earn him the 3-2 lead. After breaking Nadal`s serve to tally 1 more over the Spaniard, Federer only dropped one more game to Nadal in the set. Serving at 5-3, Federer`s final forehand volley winner won the set and sent the match to a 6th set to decide the outcome.


In the 5th set, Nadal reciprocated Roger`s feat in the previous set and completely outplayed the 27 year old Swiss who seemingly unraveled. Federer could only scrounge up 6 winners compared to 14 unforced errors during the set whereas Rafa only committed 2 unforced errors and dropped 3 points in 4 of his service games. Down 15 to 40 with a 2 to 5 deficit, Roger saved 2 Championship points to even the game at deuce. On the third and final match point, Roger volleyed a blistering forehand across the net, desperately hoping for a winner.


The former number 1 ranked men`s player looked on as his abdicator slumped to the ground in joyous victory after Federer made a forehand miscue sailing long of the baseline. Federer, who was seeking his 14th career major (and a tie for the record for most all-time with Pete Sampras), uncharacteristically showed emotion all throughout the match and ultimately broke down after his own error cost him the match.


Roger`s serve coupled with his strong forehand volleying was almost always superlative: as well as how infrequently he committed double-faults, but not on Saturday. He converted only 51 percent of his first serves into points and his unbecoming 6 double-faults only devastated his game. If the match hinged on points alone, Federer would`ve been the close-cut winner with 174 compared to Nadal`s 173. Even so, Nadal showed a greater consistency during the entire match and converted the most crucial points at the most crucial junctures, translating into victory.  


Rod Laver, the Australian tennis legend, met the Australian Open`s winner and runner-up in the center of the court bearing Rod`s name. He presented the Open trophy to Nadal while Roger was downhearted at having to wait for the next opportunity to win his 14th Major.


Maybe I`ll try later. God, it`s killing me,  Roger claimed. You deserved it. You played a fantastic final, he then affirmed to the champion afterwards.


Roger, sorry for today. I really know how you feel right now. Remember, you`re a great champion: you`re one of best in history. You`re going to improve on the 14 of Sampras,  Nadal responded with respect, to Roger. To receive the trophy from Rod Laver is a dream for me. Rod, thanks very much. It was an amazing two weeks for me, Rafael adulated, to one of his idols growing up.


 Ironically enough, Rod Laver was the first and last man to win all four ATP championships in a single year back in 1969. Now that Nadal has won the 1st title of new tennis season, he could very well follow in Laver`s footsteps considering his vast improvement of play on all playing surfaces.  



The Associated Press