The King is back! Roger Federer wins the Australian Open ( and his 18th Grand Slam) in epic fashion over his arch rival Rafael Nadal!
Who would have thought it ? Even his legion of supporters , of whom I am one, could not have hoped for such a fairytale ending. Last year at Wimbledon, when Roger made his improbable run into the semi-finals and came a cropper against Milos Raonic we all thought that was it: that there would be no more Grand Slams and that it would be his last hurrah before he rode off into the sunset. Instead, at age thirty-five, coming back from a six month layoff caused by injury, five years after his last Grand Slam win the Fed pulled off a remarkable triumph.
When the Open began, I thought , as most fans did, that Federer would win a couple of matches and then lose to one of the higher seeded players. Knowing how short of match practice he was, I didn’t think he stood a chance against younger, fitter players who could wear him down in a five set match. His first two matches, both against qualifiers, didn’t really prove anything but his three set demolition of 10th seeded Thomas Berdych, a player who had beaten him in the past, was food for thought. Against the fifth seeded Kei Nishikori, a tenacious returner, I thought he would finally hit the wall. Not only did Federer win, he seemed fresher than the younger Nishikori towards the end of the five -set match. By this time , of course, Djokovich and Murray had already departed and when the Fed outclassed Mischa Zverev in straight sets, I began to hope. When he defeated old friend and compatriot Stan Wawrinka, I began to root for Dimitrov to beat Nadal because I thought Roger had a better chance against him than Rafa. Didn’t happen, as Rafa prevailed in 5 sets. Could Roger pull it off ? The odds seemed against it as Rafa has had his number in recent years.
As Derek Cahill, one of the on-air commentators at the Open advised Federer fans, ” Relax and enjoy the match, if you can.” Luckily for me, I was watching the final in the U.S and knew the result even before the telecast began. I don’t think I could have been able to stand the tension of watching it live. As it was, I could watch the match secure in the knowledge that Federer had won. I was therefore able to relax and appreciate the amazing display that both men put on.
What a wonderful match! Unbelievable that two players in their thirties, both returning from injuries, could play a five set match at such a high level. There is no need for me to re-hash the match, shot by shot, game by game. If you didn’t watch it, you missed a historic match.
When Nadal broke Federer at the beginning of the fifth set and went on to take a 3-1 lead, I thought it was all over. All of us Federer fans gave up hope and even his wife watching the match courtside seemed to do so. What followed will be the stuff of legend. Federer seemed to shift to a higher gear, broke Nadal twice and reeled off five straight games to win the set and the match. The shots that Nadal ran down earlier in the match , he was now unable to get to. Gallantly as Nadal played ( he saved nine break points in the fifth set), he had no answer for Federer’s sublime shot making. Once again, we were able to savor those flowing backhand cross courts, so smooth, so seemingly effortless and yet so deadly. Simply beautiful to watch!
The presentation ceremony carried on where the match left off. How fitting that the legendary ” Rocket” Rod Laver was on hand to present the trophies. Nadal made a very gracious speech, as did Federer. How different from the chest thumping that one marks the NFL or the NBA. A great ending to a magnificent match, a wonderful day of tennis.
With this victory, Roger Federer pulled ahead of Rafael Nadal, 18 Grand Slams to 14, but I don’t think this is the end of the race. Nadal has to be the favorite to win the French in May and that will get him to within three of Roger. He is five years younger than Roger and , at 30, he still has three or so good years left in him. If he is able to stay injury free, there is no reason why he cannot challenge Roger’s total of eighteen Grand Slams. Whatever happens, happens. I leave it others to argue over who is the Greatest Of All Time. For me, because of the beauty of his game as much for his stellar career, Roger Federer will always be Number 1.