Roger Federer: Without Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer would probably have won Roland Garros as many as four times, not to mention captured a sixth Wimbledon. Despite all of the great things he would’ve achieved, his standing, and the sport of tennis would have suffered for his lack of a true rival.
The Spaniard Rafael Nadal has already prompted many instances of inspiration from Federer, and I’m betting he’ll bring out one more in this year’s Australian Open final.
Will Win If: Federer has served well almost every time he has overcome the Spaniard. He put more than 80 percent of his first serves into play in Shanghai 2007, made 71 percent in Wimbledon 2007 and 69 percent in the 2006 Wimbledon. Though this surface is not clay, it is still not in the Swiss maestro’s interests to get dragged into too many long rallies with the ultra-consistent Spaniard. He needs his serve to earn him as many free points as possible.
Will Lose If: Federer is not certain to win if he’s inside the baseline, controlling play with his forehand. He is, however, certain to lose is he’s 10 feet behind the baseline, chasing balls as Nadal dictates. Between his serve, his forehand and his volleys, Federer has more weapons than the Spaniard, but due to the afore-mentioned consistency, Federer needs more of them.
Heat: If this is a factor at all, it will be in the Swiss’ favor. Both Federer and Nadal have won all but one of their matches in this tournament in straight sets, and both have survived a single five-setter. Federer’s epic tussle was a week ago, however, while Nadal’s was Friday night. On top of that, Federer’s style of play requires him to burn through a lot less fuel in the course of a single match. Of course, Nadal is a rare physical specimen and Federer can’t count on him to run out of energy, but at least the Swiss can be certain that he’ll be fresh for all five sets (if necessary).
Intangibles: After his grueling five set win over Fernando Verdasco, there are two ways Nadal may be affected: 1) he may have limited reserves that Federer can exploit in the fourth or fifth set, or 2) he may be inspired, knowing that he took the AO’s hottest player’s best shot and didn’t crumble. Federer ought to be prepared for the latter.
That Nadal has a 12-6 record against Federer need not discourage the Swiss: He’s won three out of five against the Spaniard on hard courts. While Nadal’s great defense and heavy forehand may bother the Swiss on any surface, Federer has shown the ability to overpower the Spaniard off the clay.
With the record of 14 Grand Slam titles in sight, and with Nadal in his first hard court major final, look for the Swiss to take advantage of firmer footing and reel in his fourth AO title.
Federer in four.