Australian Open 2012: Roger Federer's Chances of Beating Rafael Nadal Not Bad
In best-of-five, he trails Rafa 9-17 in total, 2-7 in slams and 1-4 on outdoor hard, including a tough loss three years ago on the same court.
He's also 30 years old, while Rafa is still 25 and smack in the middle of his prime. In a best-of-five, that can make a big difference. Then, of course, there's the cross-court Rafa forehand that kicks up high to Federer's backhand, even more so in Australia.
Then there's the fact that they play at night, which will make it cooler and the balls will fly slower, making it more difficult for Roger to hit through Rafa.
Moreover, all those loses have taken a toll on Federer's mental state when he faces Nadal. The wheels come at inopportune moments, and at times he seems incapable of capitalizing on his chances.
Case in point, losing seven games in a row after failing to close out the first set at the French Open final last year.
In general, when a match between them has been really close, Nadal usually comes out the winner.
So why do I believe Federer has a more than decent chance to win it, when all I do is give reasons in favour of Nadal?
Well, for starters, Roger has been looking pretty good this past week and a half, or the past four months if you want to go back to last season. He's riding a 24-match winning streak, including a 6-3, 6-0 one-hour beating of Rafa at the World Tour Finals in London.
At the very least, that win should install some confidence and put some of his demons against Nadal to rest.
What I particularly like in his Australian Open campaign is his return of serve. Juan Martin del Potro only won 57 percent behind his first serve, and he hasn't exactly got the weakest serve on tour.
Moreover, Federer is hitting his return with more aggression, both here and in the past couple of months. Against Delpo, he hit several first-serve returns right at Delpo's feet, even with the backhand.
Nadal is serving better than he did at the US Open 2011 and as always, he puts a high percentage in. Yet, if Federer can return with aggression, he should get some chances.
Moreover, the backhand is working and not breaking down. He hits it down the line and cross-court, and he slices it. He even hits the occasional backhand smash. Of course, once he faces Nadal's forehand, it's a different ballgame.
But that's where London comes to mind. At the WTF, Federer refused to give an inch of the baseline, and his backhand didn't break down. Rather, he took control of the rallies and ended them before Nadal could get into them. That, he'll need to do again.
And even when Nadal did get a rally going to Federer's backhand, it didn't break down. Again, the bounce is higher here and there's the wind factor, too. But Federer did manage to play the match on his terms—something that's not always the case against Nadal.
If he can do that again tomorrow, his chance of winning goes up. He needs to serve well and utilize the serve out wide from the deuce court. Most of all, he needs to take control of the rally, play from the baseline and play it on his own terms instead of falling into the cross-court forehand to single-handed-backhand trap.
Can he do that?
The longer the match goes, the harder it gets. I have a hard time seeing Nadal beat Federer in three, but I can see Federer beat Nadal in three if he comes out firing.
But three is unlikely. If it goes to five, it's an uphill battle for the 30-year-old. Four sets, including winning the first, should be possible.
Finally, there's one additional intangible that might influence the match.
While I don't believe Nadal's level dropped significantly in 2011, I do believe his confidence took a hit and that he's more mentally fragile than he's been in the past.
While his past history with Roger should be more than enough to instill some confidence, there might be a subconscious fear of the player who may be waiting for him in the final, namely Novak Djokovic.
Federer has alluded to something similar with regard to his 2010 US Open loss to Djokovic. Having to play Rafa less than 24 hours after a long, gruelling five-setter was somewhere in his mind.
Rafa will not know who he'll have to play, and he will have plenty of rest. Yet, he may subconsciously be slightly afraid of yet another Djokovic slowdown, which in turn could make him less mentally strong.
Regardless of who wins, tennis fans are in for a treat.
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