I awoke about 4:45 this morning without the benefit of an alarm and flipped on the bedroom television to ESPN2 and caught the tail end of the first set of the men's semifinal match between Rafael Nadal and his countryman Fernando Verdasco in the Australian Open. Over the next few hours, I was mesmerized by some stunning tennis: physically brutal baseline rallies punctuated by spectacular shot-making. Every time Verdasco looked like he had run out of gas, he rallied back to keep Nadal on the ropes. The world #1 prevailed, 6-4 in the fifth, after five hours of play (well past 1 a.m. local time) when his opponent double faulted after saving two match points.
Now we will be treated to the first hard court showdown in a major final between the world's top two players, Nadal and Roger Federer. They played four times in 2008, with the Spaniard sweeping the series, taking three clay-court finals in Monte Carlo, Hamburg, and Roland Garros, as well as the stellar championship match at Wimbledon. That memorable title bout on the greensward was the last time the two have played each other, as Federer lost early in the Beijing Olympics won by Nadal and Nadal in turn surrendered in the semis of the U.S. Open before he could meet his Swiss rival in the final. So Sunday's match represents a much-anticipated renewal of one of the best rivalries in sport right now. Looking forward to it!