Australian Open Final Preview

First of all I’d like to say a few words about one of the greatest matches in grand slam history between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco, the semi-final played yesterday in the top half of the men’s draw. What and incredible match!!! In the end the world nr. 1  Nadal pulled through, but it took a monumental effort on his part. It was the longest match in Australian Open history, 5 hours 14 minutes, beating the previous longest match between Boris Becker and Omar Comporese by three minutes. Verdasco started off well, taking the first set in a tie break from the world nr. 1. He played like a true believer. Nadal would hit back however taking the second set 6-4 and the third set in another tie break.

It looked like Nadal could end the match in four sets with Verdasco starting to look affected by the heat and sheer intensity of the match. However he seemed to find new inspiration and started to look like the Verdasco of the first set again, playing with belief in himself and taking the game to Nadal. It seemed like whenever Verdasco took the game to Nadal and went for his shots he had the better of him. So you would have expected him to do the same in the final set. This wasn’t the case though. At 4-4 and 0-30 on Nadal’s serve in the deciding set Verdasco played two points that didn’t look like someone who believed they could win the match. After Nadal came out of that game without being broken he must have sensed the hesitance of the newcomer and took advantage of it right away, breaking Verdasco to win an epic encounter.

As I said in my previous post I wouldn’t be surprised if Verdasco causes another upset here, and he came ever so close. But in the end Nadal deserves a huge amount of credit for this win. Verdasco threw everything he had at him, hitting those powerful serves and forehands with accuracy and consistency. Nadal however played with incredible defense and athletic ability and wasn’t going to be denied his first grand slam final on hard courts. By the same token Verdasco deserves a huge amount of credit for how he played and the progress he has shown in this tournament. I’ve always liked his game but thought he was a bit of a waste of talent. But after seeing how he has physically and mentally matured in this tournament he is now one of my favorite players.

Moving onto the final between Roger and Nadal it is quite incredible how these two are dominating world tennis still. I expected Roger to make the final but wasn’t sure about Nadal. He had a lot of good hard court players on his side of the draw. However after the quarter finals I felt like he really hasn’t been tested much. But after the match against Verdasco the last thing you can say is that he wasn’t tested. Once again I gained a lot of respect for Nadal in this match, showing that he is a force to be reckoned with on all surfaces and as always silencing the critics. I mean the man is truly a revelation. He just keeps proving people wrong and breaking new boundaries. Having said all this I would still be surprised if he beats Roger in the final although by now it may not be the smartest thing to put anything at all beyond the undeniable Spaniard.

I just think the Verdasco match would have taken a toll on him, no matter how fit he is. That must have been one of the most physically and mentally demanding matches Nadal has ever played, if not the most demanding. He was constantly on the run against Verdasco covering a massive amount of ground and in high temperatures. And what is more Roger had a relatively easy match against Roddick in the semi’s winning in straight sets. But not only that he has had the extra day of rest, with the Australian Open being the only grand slam that the men’s semi-finals is playing on two different days. So Roger will be by far the fresher of the two. He would have no physical tiredness from his previous match while Nadal will have had less then 48 hours to recover form a grueling five set encounter.

Some people are saying that he is young and fit and that he will be fully recovered for the final, but I simply don’t believe that. Maybe if he was playing a lesser player he would have managed, but he’s coming up against Roger Federer and a Roger Federer that is in devastating form at that. I’m going to lay it all on the line and predict that taking the Australian Open title of 2009 will be one step too far for Nadal. Quite a bold prediction when you take into account how Nadal keeps proving people wrong but I’m going to stick by it. Whatever the case me be this is another dream final between the top two players in the world and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. There is so much depending on this match.

Should Roger win he will be tied to Sampras’ all time record of 14 grand slams and the slump of 2008 will be all but a distant memory. The Federer/Nadal rivalry will once again be the most important rivalry in tennis after Nadal has dominated Roger in 2008. Roger would gain a lot of confidence and be the favorite to once again take back his Wimbledon crown and maybe win the US Open for a sixth straight year. I believe this would give Roger a second wind as it were after the disappointment of 2008 and once again establish him as the best player in the world. Nadal has been threatening for a while now and nothing would satisfy me more if Roger could hold him off for a long time to come. Winning the Australian Open would go a long way towards achieving just that. Should Nadal win Roger’s reign might just be over and Nadal could start dominating tennis the way Roger did before.

However Roger has been in terrific form the last couple of matches only dropping a total of 15 games against two very capable players. Roger needs to be succesful where Verdasco failed, which is to end the points faster. Verdasco pulled Nadal out of the court with damaging ground strokes but would make the mistake of not going to the net and therefor letting Nadal back in the point. Roger himself has had problems doing this in the past against Nadal. It’s very much a mental thing. Nadal is not unbeatable but you need to have a killer instinct. You have to really go in for the kill once you have him on the back foot, because if you give him even the slightest chance to get back in the point he will do it 10/10 times. You can’t afford to be timid, you must go in with the mentality “I will crush him like a bug”.

This may seem harsh but this is sport and it is war. This is the only area where I have criticized Roger, but really he is such a nice guy that I think it is difficult for him to adopt such an attitude. And this is one of the reasons I like him so much so I won’t expect him to change. I think Roger can do this probably without having such an attitude anyway. I kind of have the feeling that it’s Roger’s destiny to win this title. I’m even gonna go ahead and say that Roger will win this one in four sets. Now let the games begin :-)

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