We've reached the final of the 2009 Australian Open Men's Tennis Championship, and we're set to witness yet another battle of the tennis titans as World No. 1 Rafael Nadal meets World No. 2 Roger Federer for the seventh time in a Grand Slam final.
After some surprising results that saw both players faced with five set matches by unexpected opposition, the top two seeds have overcome all other threats to progress to their first meeting since the epic five-set marathon in the final of Wimbledon 2008
With both players showing some of their best form in the tournament, which of the two champions will be able to produce something brilliant that will tip the balance in what is set to be another enthralling match between tennis's top two men?
This match will be Roger Federer's fourth appearance in the final of the Australian Open, with the World No. 2 winning all three of his previous appearances.
In his last two matches, we have witnessed the 27-year-old Swiss champion find the form which originally propelled him into tennis's top spot, firstly by demolishing Juan Martin del Potro in just 80 minutes in the quarter-finals, and then by soundly dispatching of former arch-rival Andy Roddick in a confident straight-sets display in the semi-finals.
On his current form Federer once again looks near-unstoppable, and it will surely take something extremely special and brilliant to stop the former World No. 1 from claiming his fourth title in Melbourne.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal was having what could only be described as an effortless and unchallenging run to his first ever Australian Open Final, after defeating his first five opponents in simple straight-sets encounters. That is, until he met fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the semi-finals.
In an incredible and ultimately unexpected display, Nadal had to produce his best form to post the victory in a five-set, five hours and 14 minutes marathon that set the record for the longest ever Australian Open match to date.
To Nadal's credit, the length and difficulty of this match was not the result of the 22-year-old dropping the level of his game in any way, but rather, that his opponent found the best form of his career and pushed the reigning Wimbledon and French Open champion to his limit.
The victory is undoubtedly a testament to the World No. 1's stamina and mental prowess, but it will remain to be seen whether he will have the energy left to put in a similar performance against an even greater foe in Federer.
In recent times, the Federer-Nadal rivalry has been dominated by the latter, with the Spaniard winning their last four encounters. However, this match may prove a very different story for a number of key reasons.
First and foremost is the fact that Federer is a force to be reckoned with on the hard court surface, whereas Nadal has only just recently started producing his top form here. Seeing as this is Nadal's first ever final in a hard court Grand Slam, whilst it is Federer's ninth, is a testament to the Swiss's brilliance and overall superiority on this surface.
Secondly, after his marathon of a semi-finals encounter, Nadal may not have what it takes to match the incredibly challenging Federer, who has already been displaying his top form in recent matches.
Nadal's physical fitness and stamina is certainly unquestioned, but as he will already be going into this match as the underdog, the physical demands that have been put on Nadal in recent days will do nothing but boost Federer's chances of victory.
Still, as past performances have shown, it is never wise to doubt the capability of the World No. 1 to produce something brilliant when it is required of him. In spite of the bookies tipping Federer to win in straight sets as more likely than any Nadal victory at all, Federer will be anything but a guaranteed favourite in this match. As such, we can easily expect this showdown, as we always do when these two play, to go to five tightly contested sets.
However, this match does look set to go to Federer in the end. If he is indeed victorious, then we will witness more history in the making from the former World No. 1, as he will equal Pete Sampras's record 14 Grand Slam title wins.
After a disappointing 2008 for Federer, 2009 may very well prove a different story for him. A win here in Melbourne will certainly begin the year in style for the Fed Express, and it will unequivocally show that he still definitely has what it takes to compete at the absolute highest level of men's tennis.
Prediction: Federer in five sets
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