Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer: Keys for Each in Australian Open Semifinals

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Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer: Keys for Each in Australian Open Semifinals
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Another chapter in the Rodger Federer and Rafael Nadal rivalry will be written in the Australian Open semifinals on Friday. It will be their first Grand Slam meeting since the 2012 Australian Open semifinals. 

Both players have dropped just one set on the road to the semis. Looking like vintage Federer, the Swiss beat back-to-back top-10 players in Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to get here. 

Nadal has not played his best tennis in his past two matches, but has stepped up in the big moments to defeat Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov. He has won all four tiebreakers in those matches. 

Here are the keys for both players in order to come out on top.

 

Nadal's Keys to Victory

Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press

1. Win the Pressure Points

Nadal's mental toughness is second to none. He thrives under pressure where others crumble. 

Even when Nadal has not been on top of his game, he has still stepped up on the big points. He has won 50 percent of his break-point opportunities. On the other hand, his opponents have only converted 28 percent of their break-point chances. 

In their previous match at the 2013 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, Nadal won almost all of the high-pressure points. He converted on all four of his break-point chances and saved three of Federer's four break chances (per stats from atpworldtour.com).

Nadal in Pressure Points at 2014 Australian Open
Round Opponent Break Points Break Points saved Tiebreaker record
1st B. Tomic 1/1 (100%) 0/0 N/A
2nd T. Kokkinakis 5/10 (50%) 3/3 (100%) N/A
3rd G. Monfils (25) 6/12 (50%) 6/6 (100%) N/A
4th K. Nishikori 5/8 (63%) 6/10 (60%) 2-0
QF G. Dimitrov 3/6 (50%) 3/6 (50%) 2-0

ausopen.com

2. Serve and Blister Concerns

Andrew Brownbill/Associated Press

Nadal had been serving well until his match against Dimitrov. He clearly lacked the confidence to go after his serve. With a troublesome blister, he has had trouble accelerating on his serve.

His average first-serve speed dropped from 185 kph (114 mph) to 168 kph (104 mph), per Tennis.com. He also uncharacteristically double faulted seven times. 

Here is Nadal on serving with the injury from his post-match interview, per ausopen.com:

I feel that with the tape I can lose the racquet when I serving.  That's my feeling, no?  The racquet can goes.  That's a terrible feeling for a serve, because then when you have this feeling you are not able to accelerate at the right moment. You lose a little bit the coordination.  Yeah, that's a big deal.  But right, I served slower.  I served bad. 

He may have been able to get past Dimitrov without his normal serve, but getting past Federer with a depleted serve will be an entirely different story. 

Hopefully, his hand has received enough treatment that he will be back to serving well. If he can get his serve back and win the pressure points like he has in the past, he will have a good chance to beat Federer once again. 

Nadal's Serving Stats
Match Aces Double Faults Average 1st Serve Speed (KMH)
1st 5 1 181
2nd 7 1 179
3rd 2 0 182
4th 12 1 185
QF 7 7 168

ausopen.com

 

Federer's Keys to Victory

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

1. Be the Aggressor—Attack the Net

Federer has been playing aggressive tennis Down Under. New coach Stefan Edberg likes Federer attacking the net.

The strategy has paid off, as he has been playing very well and looks more like the legendary Federer of old than the one we've seen the past couple of years.

He has come to the net over 100 times in the past two matches combined and has won 77 percent of those points. Federer's best chance at beating Nadal will be to come to the net 15 times a set and win over 75 percent of those points.

Federer's Net Point Stats
Round Opponent Net Points
1st J. Duckworth 18/22 (82%)
2nd B. Kavcic 23/29 (79%)
3rd T. Gabashvili 11/20 (55%)
4th J. Tsonga 34/41 (83%)
QF A. Murray 49/66 (74%)

ausopen.org

2. Take Advantage of Break Chances and Keep Serving Well

Federer has been returning and serving well in his matches thus far. 

If Nadal's blister continues to affect his serve, Federer will have more chances to be aggressive with his return. This will lead to more break chances. He will need to do better converting on his chances against Nadal.

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Against Murray, Federer won just four of his 17 break chances.

Federer will also need to keep up his superb serving. He has only been broken twice all tournament long. Of all the quarterfinalists, he ranked only behind Tomas Berdych in first-serve win percentage at 83 percent. 

If Federer can make 60 percent of his first serves and win around 80 percent of those points, he should be in good shape holding serve. He will need to take advantage of the break points and continue playing aggressively at the net to have a chance at beating Nadal.  

Federer's Serving Stats at 2014 Australian Open
Round 1st Serve Percentage 1st Serve Points Won Aces Double Faults
1st 58% 40/45 (89%) 11 5
2nd 76% 45/58 (78%) 11 0
3rd 62% 39/45 (87%) 6 1
4th 57% 42/48 (88%) 7 1
QF 64% 61/78 (78%) 10 0

ausopen.com

 

Prediction

We should be in for another classic match between these two. Besides Roland Garros in 2008, all of their Grand Slam meetings have gone at least four sets. I expect nothing less in this one.

Nadal's blister on his hand worries me. Watching his last match, it was obviously giving him discomfort. He even said it was really affecting his serve in his post-match interview. 

On the other hand, Federer has looked more like the Federer of old instead of the one we have seen recently. He has been playing his best tennis and has played the tougher opponents this tournament. 

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Nadal will never be one to give in; even if he doesn't have his serve, he will battle. I am going with Federer to beat his longtime rival to set up an all-Swiss final. Federer in 5.

 

Stats from ausopen.com unless noted otherwise. Follow me on twitter @joelexa7

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