Another One For The Ages
I suppose I can smugly point out that Rafa was my pick to win the Aussie Open all along, even when it was fashionable to tip Murray or Federer in the build-up to the tournament. Even after Nadal's semifinal marathon with Verdasco the other night, I thought the title was his to lose. I've been convinced since last spring's clay court season that Nadal holds a virtually impregnable mental edge over Federer now: quite simply, he's in Roger's head. The best chance for a 14th Slam title for the world #2 entailed Verdasco or someone else eliminating Nadal before the final. Once a match gets into a critical stage against Nadal, I think deep down inside Roger just doesn't believe he can win. He knows his nemesis won't go away and unless he can summon near-perfect tennis to blow him off the court, eventually the Spaniard will prevail in a war of attrition.
A few more thoughts:
- Nadal's defense has never looked better than it did these last two matches. He scrambled for balls no one else would have been able to touch and got them back in play--and in some cases did a lot more than that, conjuring spectacularly angled winners.
- Rafa's serve is also better than it was a year ago, especially when he cracked one down the center "T" in the ad court.
- The #1 ranking is certainly well deserved at this point: Nadal holds three of the four major crowns plus an Olympic gold medal and a share of the 2008 Davis Cup (though he missed the final tie in the latter competition). Murray and Djokovic are less credible challengers to the top duo than they were two weeks ago.
- Pete Sampras may be sleeping a little better. Now that Federer has lost to his rival in Slam finals on grass and hard courts--in addition to being annihilated at Roland Garros last June--the math of Roger bagging 14th and 15th majors gets a lot more problematic looking ahead.
- I don't want to be perceived as a Federer basher, for I think there's a lot to admire and like about The Mighty Fed, but isn't the case for him being considered the Greatest Of All Time significantly tarnished by his inability to consistently beat a player in his own time? Nadal has won 13 of the 19 showdowns between the two now, including the last five straight and five of seven Slam finals. Hard to imagine Federer ever holding that French Open trophy aloft now, something that has been viewed as the missing line in his resumé!
- Is it appropriate to start talking about the odds of a singles Grand Slam in men's tennis in 2009? We now have seen Nadal take the big prizes on grass and hard courts and he is a prohibitive favorite for a fifth Roland Garros win. I wouldn't bet on a Slam, but certainly no one else has a shot at it at this point!
- The awards ceremony Down Under was touching. Hard not to feel for Roger Federer. He may be realizing that his dream of 14 or more singles titles in the majors is becoming increasingly elusive, as is a return to the top ranking. He's 27 now and Nadal is only 22! I think Federer was genuinely touched by the warm reaction of the Melbourne fans. After he choked up, Nadal was there to console him. Have we seen two classier sportsmen atop the men's side of the game in the Open Era?