Roger Federer Does Not Need to Beat Rafael Nadal to Prove He's Still a Contender

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2014

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 22:  Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a forehand in his quarterfinal match against Andy Murray of Great Britain during day 10 of the 2014 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 22, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

While every tennis fan will have an opinion on Roger Federer when he takes the court against Rafael Nadal in a highly anticipated semifinals match at the Australian Open, the result will mean very little going forward.

Sure, whichever top competitor wins will have a great shot at winning the first Grand Slam of the year. Stanislas Wawrinka waits in the finals for the first time in his career, but either Federer or Nadal are capable of adding to their impressive resumes with another title.

However, Federer had a simpler goal with this tournament. Even if he does not win, he needed to show that he could still compete at a high level every single week. Fortunately, he has already done that with an impressive run to the semifinals.

Heading into Melbourne, this was far from guaranteed, even if Federer is considered by many to be the greatest player of all time. The Swiss star only won a single tournament last season and fell early at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

After dropping down to No. 6 in the world rankings, there were legitimate concerns about whether he could ever contend for titles again. The 32-year-old aimed to quiet these doubters at the Australian Open, telling Melissa Isaacson of ESPN:

I'm not thinking about [last year's] Wimbledon [where he lost in the second round] or the US Open [where he lost in the fourth], even though those were my last two Slams, which didn't go well for me. 

The way I entered this tournament now is very different. … So it's in the past, and the past you can't change anyway. I'm looking to the future. I have worked hard, put in the hard work, so from that standpoint, there are no regrets.

I feel good, and it's about me. … I want to show, to prove to myself, that I can bring it every match. I'm really excited. It's a tough draw, but I'm open for it and I'm ready to go.

This does not seem like someone who is satisfied with a world-record 17 Grand Slam titles. Instead, he wants to go out and win more.

Even with a difficult draw this week, Federer has proven he can accomplish this feat. He swept through the early stages with straight-set wins over James Duckworth, Blaz Kavcic and Teymuraz Gabashvili. He then had little trouble with an extremely talented Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, winning once again in three sets.

The first person to bring a challenge was the No. 4 player in the world: Andy Murray. Still, Federer disposed of the British star the way he has won every other match in this tournament. He is using serve and volley to dominate on his first serves, making very few mistakes and winning the points that matter.

This sets up an exciting battle against someone Federer has not seen much success against outside of Wimbledon:

Nadal has won this rivalry matchup 22 out of 32 times, including all four matches in 2013. It will take a huge effort for Federer to get a win over the current No. 1 player in the world.

However, many are still hyping this match as one of the biggest in both of their careers. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated is one of those people, explaining:

Apart from the stylistic differences, Federer-Nadal now also mesmerizes us because history and legacy are at stake. Federer and Nadal are competing for more than superiority in the present. They are competing for superiority in the future. That mystical distinction of the most accomplished player of all time—the tennis crowd has abbreviated it to the GOAT (greatest of all time). Nadal stands in Federer's way. Federer stands in Nadal's way.

So, as much as we all abhor hype and sensationalism, here we go: Friday's semifinal has the capacity to be a career-defining match for both players.

It is true that a win for Federer could prove that he is still capable of beating anyone in the world and should remain a threat for the rest of the season. Of course, a loss in this match would do little to disprove this theory anyway.

Looking at this year's Australian Open, it is clear that the sport has become extremely flat. There is depth across the tennis world, and it leads to plenty of upsets that sent Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer and others home early.

While all of these players were going down, though, Federer was using his experience and savvy to survive and advance into the semifinals. If he can do that in this tournament, imagine what will happen at Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, where he has had even more success in the past.

The only thing that a Nadal win would prove is that he is the best in the world right now. Then again, if 10 titles in 2013 did not convince you, there is little chance anything could.

However, he cannot touch Federer's legacy or even affect how he is viewed going forward this season. The Swiss star has proven his ability in the first five rounds and will certainly be a tough out in every tournament.

Although it will be fun to watch this incredible matchup between two all-time greats, it should not change anything about 2014 following the Australian Open.


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