Final Thoughts On the 2017 Australian Open – The Changed Court Speed Made All the Difference

The grand slams are the biggest events in tennis that come around only four times in a year which is why I always make one post to look back at what transpired over the past fortnight and look at how it affected the tennis landscape.

The 2017 Australian Open obviously had great significance because of the fact that Federer, at last, bagged that elusive 18th slam title which put him further ahead of the field in the GOAT debate.

When Djokovic was going through the most dominant run in tennis history from the beginning of 2015 to the French Open in 2016 I had in the back of my mind the idea that at some point there must be some kind of response from Federer.

I am particularly referring to Djokovic completing the personal slam at the French Open. That was something Federer could never achieve and on top of that he had lost four very significant slam matches against Djokovic since 2014.

Djokovic was not only fast closing the gap between him and Federer in terms of the most important records but he was now also dominating the head-to-head. Federer had to do something fast but couldn’t cash in on Djokovic’s early loss at Wimbledon last year or on Djokovic’s slump which continued after that due to Federer’s own injury.

Along came 2017 and Djokovic was starting to gain momentum again. And besides, no one was seriously considering Federer as an Australian Open favorite after a six-month layoff. And it was after all Djokovic’s best slam.

  • How the Court Speed Made the Difference

The court speed this year in Melbourne is not something I wrote about much during my coverage but it was on my mind and I think it is the critical issue that caused this to be the Australian Open of great upsets.

As you can see, Rod Laver Arena is now one of the fastest surfaces on tour. Therefore, it is no wonder that Federer won and defeated his nemesis in the final at that. Of course, it took a tremendous effort from Federer and the court speed doesn’t take anything away from his victory, but it does explain why this was such a strange Australian Open.

It also shows us how boring tennis could have become if they didn’t slow down court speeds in recent times. Federer may have won something like 25 slams by now and dominated for even longer which would have been awfully boring.

I’m also certain of the fact that Djokovic’s loss was caused by the considerably faster courts this year. As a Djokovic fan, it is a tough thing to accept, especially since he was just about back to his peak level again after defeating Murray in Doha.

It was a big blow for him because it came at a crucial time where he needed to make a stand at his best slam after letting things slip since Wimbledon. It shows you how much court speeds and the decisions of tournament organizers can affect things.

It can literally be a determining factor in the GOAT debate. Had the surface speed been the same as last year Djokovic probably would have defeated Istomin and won the tournament. He has only lost once in the last six years on that surface.

The faster courts just give him that little less time to reach balls and make defensive plays which can make a huge difference in the outcome of a match. I saw it very clearly in the Fedal final as well.

Nadal made way fewer of those ridiculous defensive plays than he did in the 2009 final and he constantly looked rushed. I thought he could have been more aggressive at times but Federer and the courts made that hard.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Nadal would have won had the court speed been the same as last year. But then neither Federer nor Nadal would have made the final. It is way more likely that Djokovic and Murray would have been in the final.

Murray’s loss to Zverev is another dead giveaway that the court speed was drastically different. A serve-and-volley player in the quarters of the Australian Open? Are you kidding me? And that after defeating the world number one?

But even as a Djokovic fan it is hard to feel bitter about the drastic change in court speed because of the way in which court speeds have been slowed down on tour in recent years. It is not conducive to Federer’s attacking game style and he has suffered many brutal losses because of it.

  • What Does It All Mean for the GOAT Debate?

Yes, the change in court speed in Melbourne this year could have had a big effect on the outcome of the GOAT debate. After his Australian Open title, many people are now proclaiming Federer as the undisputed GOAT.

He had won the elusive 18th slam and defeated his nemesis in the process. It is hard to argue with their logic. Personally, I think it is a great story and great for tennis. I am celebrating with Fedfans; not as a Fedfan but as a tennis fan.

That said the GOAT debate is something very subjective. There are so many factors to consider like the court speeds I just mentioned, the era players play in, how they fared against their biggest rivals, the records that they broke, and many other things.

That’s why I find it easier to divide players into tiers and I have already said my top tier consists of Laver, Federer, and Djokovic(I would have added Nadal if he won the Australian Open). They all did amazing things. Laver won the calendar slam, Federer won his 18th slam at age 35, and Djokovic had the most dominant run in history when he won the personal slam and he reached the highest level of tennis ever in my opinion during that time.

And Djokovic is far from done. I thought he may have some serious personal problems and that he lost his drive after the Australian Open loss, but after having time to digest it I realized it was simply the court speed.

The Djokovic I got to know during 2015 and 2016 when he was dominating was one of the most driven and ambitious individuals I have ever encountered. I was certain he would become the GOAT with that level of ambition and drive.

Then I started thinking he has marriage problems and that he changed but I don’t think you just lose that level of ambition that easily. He was already at his best level again in London and Doha this year.

He just got unlucky with the changed court speed at the Australian Open. I don’t think it is a question of motivation. Djokovic will be back. Soon it will be Indian Wells and Miami where he is almost unbeatable and then the clay season where he can make up for what happened in Melbourne.

Since Nadal could not complete the double career slam in Melbourne this gives him the opportunity now to become the only big four member to do so. The GOAT debate is certainly not just about how may slams you win.

I know this is the popular view but it is definitely not true. Laver won only 11 slams but he is considered by many to be the GOAT. That is because he won the calendar slam. These things matter.

So does the Djoker slam and so would the double career slam. There is a reason Federer or Nadal have never achieved these things. They are incredibly hard to do!

  • In Conclusion

I don’t necessarily think Federer has the GOAT title wrapped up. He may have it wrapped up for the time being but he is closer to retirement than Djokovic. Djokovic recently said that he plans on being around for a long time(until he is 40).

The GOAT debate is very subjective anyway and despite this one big win over Nadal, it doesn’t do much to change the overall head-to-head of 1-3 at the Australian Open, 3-9 in slams, and 12-23 overall.

It also doesn’t change his 1-3 head-to-head with Djokovic in slam finals or the overall head-to-head which is in Djokovic’s favor. Djokovic isn’t done. Neither is Federer or Nadal. I think it would be boring and unfair to close the GOAT debate now.

What happened in Melbourne was a big setback for Djokovic but may well cause him to work even harder than he did of late and make him sacrifice everything to win the French Open again this year.

We will just have to see. But I don’t think the GOAT debate is over and I’m still very interested to see what happens next!

Federer Wins 18th Slam at Australian Open

It was due, wasn’t it? Federer has been knocking hard at the door of his 18th slam title in in his last four slams but Djokovic kept denying him. So all credit to him for not losing hope and keeping the faith.

When he called it a season last year after Wimbledon things weren’t looking promising. Some feared the end was near. But then he comes back after six months off and wins his 18th slam in his first tournament back.

And that against his nemesis Nadal with a scoreline of 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. It seems too good to be true. Going into the match I actually felt Federer had a chance because it felt like he was due after all the near misses in his last four slams.

Especially the final losses against Djokovic at Wimbledon and the US Open. You felt like he was playing well enough to win a slam but Djokovic was just taking tennis to a whole new level. But credit to Federer for taking advantage of the early loss of Djokovic.

He had the same opportunity at Wimbledon last year but there Raonic stopped him. I guess the break did Federer really well and was exactly what he needed. It’s a ridiculous story and I still find it hard to believe.

I mean I wasn’t looking past Nishikori as far as Federer’s draw went. How does he go from six months out of the sport to winning a grand slam in his first event back, at 35? It seems insane but it happened.

I have never seen someone reach Djokovic’s level of tennis and completeness as a tennis player but this is something else too. Federer’s achievement doesn’t quite match Djokovic’s personal slam but if you look at the bigger picture it does.

That is 18 slam titles and the most recent one at the age of 35. I’ve said for a while now that Federer’s level is still unbelievably high and now you will see all the Fedfans all of a sudden agreeing with me.

There was no doubt in my mind that he would win another slam if he kept the level that he showed against Djokovic at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2015. What I didn’t think would happen is that he would be back to that level after six months out of the sport.

You also have to give him loads of credit for slaying the demons of the past and especially the 2009 Australian Open final. The court speed no doubt helped because Nadal constantly looked rushed but Federer deserved that bit of help with how conditions have been slowed down on tour in recent years.

Coming back from a break down in the fifth against Nadal is another shocker in an Australian Open full of shockers. Nadal was uncharacteristically un-clutch. I think it was at 3-2 in the fifth on his serve and game point where he missed a routine forehand.

That was unlike Nadal who is normally so clinical but Federer played a big role in that by keeping the pressure on Nadal and never giving up hope. I mean you just have to give him credit for that. His backhand didn’t break down the way it usually does against Nadal.

And even when Nadal turned things around coming back from 2-1 down in sets to go a break up in the fifth he kept believing. He finally slew those Nadal demons which took huge courage. I’m happy for him.

Things had come full circle and you could see what it meant to him when the final hawkeye review went his way. As someone who was once a fan of his, it was hard not to feel happy for him.

As far as his fans go, as annoying as they can be, they had to wait almost five years for #18 and suffered many brutal losses at the hands of Djokovic in recent times. There was the 2014 Wimbledon final that went right down to the wire, the 2015 Wimbledon final, the 2015 US Open final, and last year’s Australian Open semi-finals.

You’d have to be a pretty ungrateful and cold-hearted Djokovic fan if you can’t at least allow Federer and his fans this moment. They literally went through hell at the hands of Djokovic in the last few years.

I have no problem in allowing Federer and his fans this moment because since I became a Djokovic fan at the French Open in 2015 it has been an immensely satisfying time as a tennis fan.

Since then, Djokovic completed the personal slam, something neither Federer nor Nadal could achieve. It would be absurd to be bitter over Federer finally winning #18. I am truly happy for him after not only the heartbreak of the 2009 final but the heartbreak of many other losses to both Nadal and Djokovic.

It’s an inspiring story of the power of faith. Despite heartbreak after heartbreak Federer kept believing that it was his destiny to win #18 and eventually, he did so in spectacular fashion. This is truly the fairytale ending that the Fedfans hoped for.

Yes, Federer fans can be annoying but the ones who stayed faithful you can’t accuse of not staying loyal and having faith. So I am glad for them and hopefully they can also have the decency now to accept me as a Djokovic fan.

  • Highlights

Federer and Nadal to Face Off in 2017 Australian Open Final

  • SF #1: Federer def Wawrinka 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3

I’ve already written my thoughts about this match on Facebook but I will say a few more things here. This match was a great disappointment to me despite the scoreline. Neither player looked like they wanted to win.

It’s incredible how Stan’s body language changes when he faces Federer. He is unwilling to play the bad guy which is the role assigned to anyone who dares to defeat Federer on a regular basis. At least when it comes to Fedfans.

Stan is not a warrior. He doesn’t want to win at all costs. He would rather be the nice guy that doesn’t spoil the party than the villain who gets what he wants. That is in stark contrast to Djokovic and Nadal who have received endless criticism simply because they dare to defeat Federer on a regular basis.

Take for instance the MTO incident in the first semi-final. Federer took an MTO after Wawrinka took one earlier and afterward he admitted it was a tactical ploy. There was no criticism. But if Djokovic or Nadal does it all hell breaks loose.

Anyway, I’m not sure what Stan’s deal is. Maybe it is a Swiss thing because Federer seems to lack the warrior qualities too. That is why he keeps losing to Djokovic and Nadal in big matches.

From the start of the match, you could sense Federer was not quite playing his A game. This was Stan’s chance to cash in but he had the body language as if he had already lost. It is like he undergoes a complete transformation when facing Federer.

None of the loud come-ons or pointing to the head. Just totally subdued so that he doesn’t disappoint the crowd who so desperately want Federer to win. It is a tragic thing to see if you are a real tennis fan and want to see good tennis.

Regardless, Federer started playing even worse in the third set and Stan finally started cashing in. But by then it was too late. He had already shown Federer that he would not capitalize on his lack of form.

Federer continued with the unforced errors in the fourth set and even though Stan handed him the break right back that he fought so hard for, in the opening game of the fourth set, Federer allowed him to break again at 4-4.

I think it was after the fourth set that Federer then took the tactical MTO which was all it took for Stan to crack mentally and lose the momentum. In the end, neither player looked like they wanted to win but Stan wanted it less.

Stan was afraid of Federer and Federer was afraid of Nadal which led to a very poor quality match. Sure there were some good points but if you understand the dynamics of the match it was highly frustrating to watch.

Either way, Federer had done very well to make the final after six months out of the sport. It wasn’t pretty but he was now in his sixth Australian Open final and he would soon find out whether he would indeed face his nemesis in the final.

  • SF #2: Nadal def Dimitrov 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-3

In very stark contrast to the first semi-final, this was an absolute epic. Whereas Stan and Federer’s body language were subdued and negative, Nadal and Dimitrov were psyched up and emotional.

They went at it like Spartan warriors who left it all out there on the court, neither wanting to give the other an inch. If you were still undecided as to whether the first semi-final was a good or bad, the second semi-final should have made that clear.

Here were two guys who would pretty much die out there for a place in the final. We know that is always the case with Nadal but I was very impressed with Dimitrov’s level and desire. It’s for sure the best match I’ve seen him play.

I was dozing off from time to time during the match due to sleep deprivation but I saw most of the match. Dimitrov’s backhand was a lot more solid than I thought it would be while Nadal slumped in the second set the way he did against Raonic.

But Dimitrov was good enough to take advantage. Nadal appeared declined to me but you have to give Dimitrov credit for a terrific display of offensive tennis and fight. Dimitrov had two break points at 4-3 and 40-15 on Nadal’s serve in the decider but Nadal saved it in his usual clutch way.

Those were like virtual match points which means Dimitrov was awfully close to pulling off the upset. But given that Nadal was involved we should hardly be surprised. In the mental department, only Djokovic can hang with him.

This match reminded a lot of the 2009 semi-final between Nadal and Verdasco where Verdasco had Nadal at 4-4 and 0-30 on his serve but failed to capitalize after which Nadal won 6-4 in the fifth set too.

That match lasted 5h14min while this one lasted 4h56min. Not only that, but it is also the second semi-final and Nadal will face Federer in the final like he did in 2009. If things continue in this vein Nadal will also win the final.

  • Final Preview: Fedal 35.0

Well, there it is. The final ‘everyone’ wanted. I am not the mainstream media trying to get your attention and clicks so I’m gonna tell it like it is. But then you already knew that.

As a tennis fan, this final is fine with me. I think the Fedal rivalry is overrated but the fact that these two are meeting in another slam final after all this time is astonishing by itself. Who would have thought that was possible when the draw came out?!

But then again no one thought Djokovic would lose in the second round or Murray in the fourth round. This Australian Open has been a perpetual surprise. As a tennis fan, I don’t mind that. I think it is a nice change up.

I think most Fedfans were praying today that Dimitrov wins because if he did Federer was pretty much a lock for the title. And he came ever so close. But now the picture looks drastically different.

Nadal leads the head-to-head 23-11 and 9-2 in slams. Everyone that follows tennis knows by now that Nadal is Federer’s nemesis. That 2009 Australian Open loss to Nadal scarred Federer deeply and he could never slay those demons.

On Sunday he will get another chance. Unfortunately for him, the beatings have only gotten worse at the hands of Nadal over the years. At least in Melbourne. Since they met in that fateful 2009 final they played two more times in the semis in 2012 and 2014 which Nadal won in four sets and straight sets respectively.

So things have gotten progressively worse for Federer. It is just very hard to see Federer exorcising this demon. Time after time in the big matches Nadal has defeated Federer. The last time Federer defeated Nadal in a slam was in 2007, almost a decade ago.

The difficulty for Federer against Nadal is that he has to win the first set or his chances go to 0.1%. But that is not enough. He has to win the second set too, or Nadal becomes the overwhelming favorite again.

Even if Federer wins the first two sets and Nadal wins the third set then Nadal becomes the favorite again. This is the monumental task that Federer has ahead of him and it is, therefore, no wonder he lost his way in the third set of the semis.

He wasn’t consciously thinking about Nadal. But Nadal is so deeply embedded in his subconscious that even if there is just the possibility he could face him in the final it affects him. He inexplicably started missing in the third set after being in complete control.

He invited Stan back into the match but Stan never wanted it to begin with. Had Stan won he would have had a good shot at defeating Nadal but he was intent on making Federer face his worst nightmare.

I am not saying Federer can’t win. Tennis is an awfully strange sport. Literally, anything can happen. It just seems extremely unlikely. It feels like those two points at 3-4 and 15-40 on Nadal’s serve against Dimitrov already determined Federer’s fate.

Dimitrov has a similar game to Federer and he pretty much gave Federer the blueprint on how to beat Nadal except he lost and he doesn’t carry the emotional baggage of Federer when facing Nadal.

I’m just being honest. It is very difficult to see Federer beating Nadal but you just never know for sure. And besides, Federer by far exceeded expectations by making the final. Whatever happens, he can feel great about his form and progress.

Yes, he is the one who made two finals and two semi-finals in his last four slams while Nadal’s best was the fourth round but tennis isn’t always fair. If he loses he will just have to take it as a positive and look forward to his best slam at Wimbledon.

  • The Final from the Perspective of a Djokovic Fan

As a Djokovic fan, this tournament is obviously not the ideal scenario. Not only did Djokovic lose early, but his two main rivals in the GOAT debate are in the final which means one of them will increase their slam tally.

From that perspective, I am not very emotionally invested in this match. And I am very happy about that part. If I was still a Fedfanatic I would be very emotionally invested and if Federer lost it would have been 2009 all over again.

That was my worst moment ever as a tennis fan and I certainly don’t want to experience that again. Or anything close to it. If I have to choose a side it would be Nadal. Why?

If Nadal wins the title it would give him the double career slam with the French Open coming up. Djokovic was the favorite to achieve the double career slam before Federer or Nadal so if Nadal does it now it will hurt Djokovic.

And knowing that the French Open is coming up and Nadal will probably be the favorite there if he wins the Australian Open, it could really cause Djokovic to wake up from his mental slumber.

If Djokovic wins the French it would mean he would also get the double career slam. I think it would add extra motivation for him to sacrifice all for winning the French Open. Otherwise, Nadal will likely go even further ahead of him in Paris.

On top of that, if Federer wins the 18th slam he would go further out of reach of Djokovic. If Nadal wins the target stays the same for Djokovic. But for someone who had high expectations of Djokovic winning the title, I don’t really care who wins on Sunday.

I like that because I can just sit back and enjoy it without being too emotionally invested.

Should be fun!

  • Highlights

Who will win?

  • Nadal in 4 (34%, 41 Votes)
  • Federer in 4 (31%, 37 Votes)
  • Federer in 5 (11%, 13 Votes)
  • Nadal in 3 (10%, 12 Votes)
  • Federer in 3 (10%, 12 Votes)
  • Nadal in 5 (3%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 119

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