Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rafael Nadal beats Roger Federer to win Australian Open

So finally it is official. Rafael Nadal truly is a superhuman performer after recovering from the longest marathon the Australian Open has ever known to overcome the might of Roger Federer and claim his third grand-slam title in a brilliant seven-month stretch.

It was a night of firsts at Melbourne Park. The first Spaniard ever to win the year's opening major. The first Australian final to extend to five sets since the event was moved to this venue five years ago. The first grand-slam final ever to reach a conclusion beyond midnight.

However, the evening will forever be remembered for the magnificence of Nadal's performance in once again proving himself the master of endurance to beat Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2. There is no stopping this 22-year-old and huge doubts must be in the mind of his great rival as to whether he ever will go on to beat Pete Sampras's record of 14 grand-slam titles.

As Federer leveled the match at two sets all, it looked inevitable that he would level the Sampras total. Nadal, extended by his countryman Fernando Verdasco to five hours 14 minutes of action less than two days earlier, appeared to have hit a physical wall, while the Swiss seemed to be hitting his stride.

adal then once again proved he is a competitor who can never be counted out. He regrouped, he changed his shirt, bandana and racket and came back to outgun Federer with display that left the three-time Australian Open champion looking like a man ready to accept defeat in the closing few games.

There was a strange resignation to Federer's play at the end. No longer was he the imperious champion who once accepted victory in hard-court finals as a near-certainty. There is now almost an inferiority complex when he stands next to Nadal and the flood of tears that delayed his runner-up speech almost suggested a knowledge that his truly great days are over.

If last summer's Wimbledon final between the pair was the greatest tennis match ever played, then for long periods this offering was not far behind. Some of the rallys were truly stunning, some of the recovery play seemed to break the bounds of human possibility and the gaggle of greats sitting in the Presidents' Box including Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Tony Roche and Neale Fraser were, like the rest of the 15,000 crowd, repeatedly forced into rapturous applause.

Perhaps the omens of it not being Federer's night were plain from the opening game as he uncharacteristically dropped serve. This was not the stuff expected of legends; he framed a forehand long and was then horrendously wrong-footed as Nadal could hardly believe his initial luck.

By his own immaculate standards, Federer did not serve well all match. He went through several periods where he struggled to get his first delivery into play and hit six double faults, several of them at crucial moments.

Nadal may have served half as many aces but was still a model of consistency from the service line and had the ability to produce the big one when required. But the deciding factors were his resilience, his spirit, his attitude and his strength. He has now proved he can win on a hard court in a five-set final in the same way that he has done on clay and grass.

Perhaps it was apt that he received his trophy from Laver himself, the last man ever to complete the full grand-slam. Given Nadal's immaculate new credentials on all surfaces on which major tournaments are played, there is a distinct possibility that 40 years on from Laver's feat, we will finally be lauding somebody else as the king of the grand slam.

Source: www.timesonline.co.uk