Australian Open Semis: Rafa Rocks; Roger Can Still Take Heart
It's hard to scribble even a few lines when your favourite player gives his best and still walks out the loser. Yet, the only way to soothe this heartache is to just write it out.
Like millions of Roger Federer fans, I am going to praise Rafael Nadal for his valiant efforts to come back from a set down and win the match against one of the greatest tennis players ever to grace the court.
At the same time, I will hope that once the Federer team regroups from this loss, it will find a few positive features in his game that were actually causing concern as recently as last year.
The Australia Day fireworks that halted the game in between paled in comparison with the quality of the winners and the shot-making both players put on display today at the Australian Open Semi-Finals in Rod Laver Arena. Roger got off to a dream start, 3-0. He went up 4-1 but the downswing set in suddenly from nowhere. The first set went to a tie-breaker and Federer won it at 7-6 (7-5).
When you look back at this blockbuster match, I feel that the most fatal mistake came from Federer right after he won the first set and got a break and yet, surrendered his own in a jiffy. The momentum shifted back in Nadal's favour.
This is where Roger is unforgivable. He simply forgets to cling on to one of his greatest strengths: his serve!
On the other hand, Rafa continued to retrieve the balls from the other end of the earth and suck the life out of his opponent's shots that could have easily been winners against any other world-class player. This is where even a die-hard Federer fan would helplessly mutter under his or her breath: "Unbelievable!"
And there were many such moments in this match. A relentless Rafa sent the crowd hemming and hawing quite a few times with his amazing passing shots. He played a superb tie-breaker in the third set and followed it up with some more excellent shots in the fourth and final set.
This guy just never accepts defeat until it is officially flashed on the scoreboard.
The score of 6-4 in the fourth set could not have been more deceptive. Roger's failure to break Nadal when he was up 4-3 was yet another shortcoming that Federer would simply love to forget. Then came another—surrendering his own service as his first serve began playing hide and seek.
But Roger was anything but out, even when his forehand clipped the net time and time again he confidently tried to step up his game. Roger held on and snatched a match point from Nadal. But he failed to cash in on the two breakpoints.
By now, it was clear that the tennis gods' conspiracy theory had an eloquent thesis written for Nadal, but did not have even a hint of juxtaposing antithesis favouring Roger.
Federer seemed to have actually been misled by his own game-plan to finish the points early and avoid inviting Rafa into longer rallies. Perhaps the high-octane match didn't let him realise he was actually winning more longer rallies than short ones. That's where he needed to take his time and keep up with Nadal and wait for his chance with a hawk's eye. But that was not to be!
What it does reveal, although it may not come across as a strange statement right at this moment, is Federer does not have to worry too much over losing long rallies against Rafa.
Lay aside those few judgemental errors at crucial junctures when he went for winners a little too early and committed errors, you can't write the Swiss off completely just because he lost this match.
Instead, look at his much-improved backhand. Not once did it feel that Roger struggled with his backhand. If anything, it was the other way round. On a luckier day, Federer will mop up more winners with both hands and eventually claim his 17th major.
Meanwhile, Rafa's juggernaut rolls on as if to pooh-pooh his own injury claims. If at all he faces Novak Djokovic in the finals, he will realise what it means to walk in with a huge baggage of losses yet again.
And, if Novak does manage to clip Rafa's wings consecutively for the seventh time, Rafa will know what it means to stand in Roger's shoes.
So much for cathartic relief!
Great show, Rafa.
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