Australian Open 2012: Federer vs Nadal, What Each Star Must Do to Win

Nick Nemeroff@NNemeroffCorrespondent IIJanuary 26, 2012

The Blockbuster match is set.   

Roger Federer will square off against Rafael Nadal in the 2012 Australian Open Semifinals Thursday Morning at 3:30 a.m. US Eastern Standard Time.   

This promises to be a rekindling of the epic rivalry between two of the most revered players ever to grace the court.   

In this article, I am going to precisely detail what each man must to do in order to secure a spot in the finals.


Rafael Nadal

1.  Attack the Federer Backhand

Nadal's vicious, high bouncing forehand injected with almost nearly inconceivable amounts of topspin has proven itself a demon to the backhand of Roger Federer.  This pattern has been an unwavering staple in the strategy of Rafael Nadal.

If people seek to find a single explanation of Nadal's 17-9 head to head record with Federer, I would be inclined to point out Federer's struggles with dealing with balls creeping up to shoulder level and above on his backhand. This specific shot is traditionally tougher to execute for one-handers and often leads to short and defensive balls for their opponents.

Nadal will undoubtedly use this pattern looking to put Federer on the defensive and open up the court for his blistering forehand.


2. Serve at a High Percentage 

Nadal is not well regarded for possessing an extraordinary, powerful serve.  Despite this, Nadal gets broken as about as infrequently as anyone on the ATP Tour.    This is a direct function of his ability to effectively vary his serves and serve at a high percentage.  Not to mention, he backs his serve up with an outstanding all-court game (groundstrokes, volleys, movement).


3.  Maintain a steady, high level of aggression

In his quarterfinal encounter with Tomas Berdych, Nadal began the match utilizing a highly defensive, low risk game plan.  In contrast, the Czech number one sought out to obtain the initiative in the majority of points.  Simply put, it was Berdych's set to win or lose. Berdych looked to dictate from the center of the court, which he effectively did closing out the first set in a highly contested and controversial tiebreaker.

From the onset of the second set, Nadal appeared to loosen up and play in more free flowing and fluid nature.  I believe this is a direct result of ridding himself of internal struggles associated with nerves and the magnitude of the match.

Integrating a heightened level of aggression and overwhelming physicality, Nadal was able to take out Berdych in four sets in a match that lasted over four hours.

One of the main differences between 2010 Nadal and 2011 Nadal involves a significantly altered aggression level.  In 2010, Nadal was hitting winners right and left providing his opponents virtually no chance of obtaining traction within points.

In 2011, especially against Djokovic, Nadal fixed something that wasn't broken and was content with allowing Djokovic to strike the initial blows. 2010 Nadal combined an appropriate, balanced combination of defense and offense, whereas 2011 Nadal seemed to tip the scale to favor a more defensive and passive minded strategy which clearly proved to be less effective.


4. Get to the net

One of the most underrated aspects of Nadal's nearly flawless game are his volleys.  The Spaniard is potent when following behind a deep, well-placed approach shot.  It is of extreme rarity for Rafa to ever miss a volley.   

Against Federer, getting to the net would serve the purpose of not only throwing the Swiss off balance, but it would allow Nadal vital opportunities to take away Federer's ability to dictate the points.



Roger Federer

1. Win the first set

Rafael Nadal has only lost one career grand slam match after capturing the first set, that being in the 2007 US Open Round of 16 where Nadal was taken out by his Spanish compatriot David Ferrer in a shocking four set match. 

In addition, in the 26 matches Federer and Nadal have competed in, the winner of the opening set has come out victorious 19 times.

In two of the four majors last season, Federer blew a two sets to love advantage, thus making the opening set against Nadal that more crucial.   

While both are incredible front runners, Nadal definitely has the advantage in that category.


2. Capitalize on Break Points

In the 2008 Wimbledon final, Federer was an abysmal 1-13 on break points, a key factor resulting in his five set defeat at the hands of Nadal.

Obviously, converting break points is vital in any match, but if Federer fails to capitalize on a high quantity of break points, he is going to start second guessing himself and lose his mental edge.


3. Attack Rafa's Serve 

Assuming that Nadal will be serving a majority of the time to the backhand of Federer, the Swiss can absolutely not afford to rely on the chip backhand return.  This will allow the Spaniard ample time to prepare and set up for his brutal forehand.

Federer needs to be really to step in, mainly on the second serve, take the ball early, and look to place Nadal out of position.


4. Effectively place his serves

Serving at a high percentage solves only half the puzzle against the Nadal.  Federer needs to look to vary up his serves, keeping Nadal off balance and unsuspecting.

In particular, the one serve Federer has to utilize is the spinner out wide on the deuce side.  In his most recent match against Nadal in London, Federer implemented this tactic supremely, which allowed him to open the court for his vicious forehand.

In terms of predicting this match I would definitely go with Federer if it was against any other opponent (even Djokovic).  But as history will tell us, even the most in-form Federer is vulnerable against the relentless Spaniard.   

With that said, I am hesitantly going to forecast a tight four set win four Federer based off his recent 24 match win streak and due to the fact that Nadal just played a vigorous four hour, four set match against Tomas Berdych in the Quarterfinals. 


5. Don't cave under pressure

Since the 2009 US Open, Federer, more than ever, has let various matches slip after developing leads. Several examples of this include the 2009 US Open Final against Del Potro, the 2010 US Open Semifinals against Novak Djokovic, and the 2011 US Open Semifinals against Novak Djokovic.

Federer, as I imagine he will, must rid himself of all such thoughts of these previous matches.  The past is the past.  

My prediction is Federer wins in four tight sets, but I really wouldn't bet much on it.  That being said, regardless of the outcome, this should be one to remember.


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