To start off, I apologise for the title. Calling Rafa the King of Clay after Wimbledon '08 seems grossly unfair, I know. But it is my little tribute to his dominance on clay.
After a match, nay battle, of truly epic proportions with compatriot and buddy Verdasco, Rafa must be on a high. He must be exhausted, yes, but certainly feeling on top of the world ready to conquer a new kingdom down under.
But, there is an emperor that he'll have to overcome.
Fed took the first few steps on this tour rather hesitatingly - not really getting into his rhythm. Then he met the Marauding Marat amid immense hype of a AO 2005 rematch. As it transpired, it was an anti-climax.
That was because Fedex had shifted to a higher gear and Marat was forced out of his comfort zone.
But after that, Berdych happened. In a match where Fed seemed clueless to Berdych's high precision ground-strokes, Fed shifted to yet another higher gear and came back from two sets down to win it. Since then, Roger has been in a zone where his opponents could never even dream to be.
A hot and happening Del Potro was made to look pedestrian while a fitter-than-before A-Rod who played his best tennis realised how inadequate his efforts were.
Thus, the battleground has been prepared for the raging hot-blooded King Rafa to take on the sublime Emperor Federer. That it'll be Rafa's first AO final or that he might be physically drained are not really factors that will affect his game.
They are mere trivialities which can be discussed for a purely academic reasons.
But there is one factor that will definitely come into play. That is the TOP gear that The Emperor is capable of getting into - something he has not been able to do during 2008 due to his health issues. I suspect we are going to witness the Roger Federer of the old (well, a year and a half isn't exactly 'old' but anyways...).
I think Fed's going to keep a high first serve percentage, fire more aces, approach the net more often and make few unforced errors.
To say that the final will be a high-voltage clash would be an understatement and redundant. But I believe The Emperor's TOP gear will be too much to handle for the King of Clay.
I predict a four-set win for the Emperor. Period.