Obviously, this result was both surprising and disappointing to tennis fans hoping for a classic battle between two of the best ever to play the sport. While the first set was promising when it went to a tiebreak, Federer was unable to keep up for the rest of the match.
The finish is telling when analyzing each competitor and leads to some interesting takeaways following the match.
Rafael Nadal Will Only Lose to Rafael Nadal
After coming back from a knee injury last season, Nadal posted an incredible 75-7 record in 2013 while winning 10 titles. Incredibly, he is on his way to an even better year in 2014.
The Spanish star already won a title at Doha and is now one match away from winning the Australian Open title. This would give him a rare "Double Grand Slam" after winning each event at least twice.
Of course, he admitted to ATPWorldTour.com that he gave an even better effort than usual against Federer:
I played well tonight. I think I played probably my best match of the tournament. So I am very, very, very happy for this great news that I played my best match in that semi-final against Roger.
He arrived to that match winning two great matches against [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga and Andy [Murray] two days ago. I am really very happy the way I played tonight, and it is a very special moment to have the chance to be in another final.
The truth is when Nadal is at his best, no one in the world can beat him. Even looking at his losses to Novak Djokovic last season, each of them featured sloppy play with tons of errors and double faults. This is the best an opponent can hope for this year.
However, Nadal was excellent against Federer, getting to every ball and hitting unstoppable winners—all of which was on display in this rally:
If he can play at this level in every single match, there is no one in the world who can beat him. Instead, Nadal will only lose this season when he struggles himself.
Roger Federer Must Remain Aggressive
While the results were not necessarily what Federer was looking for, the veteran can be proud of his run at the Australian Open. He reached the semifinals thanks to wins over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray and showcased a new, more aggressive style in the victories.
Throughout the tournament, Federer was quick in going to the net immediately after his serves, putting the pressure on his opponent. In four of his five matches, he was able to win at least 74 percent of his points at the net.
Unfortunately, Nadal was able to return fire in these circumstances and held Federer to only 23-of-42 at the net.
Still, this does not mean he should stop utilizing this style. His ability to dominate top competitors in the early rounds showed that he is set for a rejuvenation this season.
After the match, he certainly seemed confident for the upcoming schedule:
The loss to Nadal was disappointing, but he clearly will continue contending for Grand Slam titles throughout the year.
Head-to-Head Rivalry is Not a Good One
You can debate which player between the two is the "greatest of all time," but it is clear that one of them has an edge in head-to-head matches. ESPN's Kevin Negandhi thinks this matters:
In his prime, Federer was one of the most dominant players in sports but it's hard to ignore his 2-9 record in Grand Slam matches vs. Nadal.— Kevin Negandhi (@KNegandhiESPN) January 24, 2014
Things have been even worse over the past year:
Rafael Nadal has now won 5 straight meetings overall vs Federer, and 6 straight meetings in Grand Slam events. Last loss in a GS - 2007.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 24, 2014
Overall, Nadal now has a 23-10 record against Federer, as his defensive game perfectly matches up against the strong serving ability of the Swiss star.
On the other hand, it is important to note that Nadal is five years younger than Federer. This means that while the former was entering his prime, the latter was leaving his. Tennis is a sport that features a very short lifespan and most players start to struggle in their late 20s into their 30s.
While Federer has been impressive in his longevity, there is no denying he has lost a step since dominating during his peak run from 2004-09.
That being said, it is about time to stop getting this excited when the two superstars face each other in a tournament. We now know that Nadal has the upper hand and not much will change that in the future.
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