Get ready for an epic battle in the men's final of the Australian Open.
While tennis fans eagerly anticipate Sunday's battle between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the first Grand Slam men's title of the 2017 season, they must realize what an unexpected showdown it is.
Federer, the 17th seed in the tournament, had missed the final six months in 2016 after undergoing knee surgery. While he had made enough of a recovery to return to tournament action, there seemed to be little chance he could play for the title.
Nadal seemed to be a bit closer to top form after recovering from a wrist injury, but he did not appear to have a great chance of getting to the championship round. After all, he was the ninth seed—and how was he going to beat top seed Andy Murray or second-seeded Novak Djokovic?
Neither Nadal nor Federer had to answer that question as the top seeds were eliminated relatively early. Still, the two superstar veterans had to fight to get to the final.
The Spaniard was pushed to the limit in the semifinals, when he outlasted Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4. He also defeated Gael Monfils and Milos Raonic as he powered his way through the tournament.
Federer was also extended to five sets in the semifinals. He took on Swiss countryman and fourth seed Stan Wawrinka and got the best of him by a 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3 margin.
|Australian Open: Men's Championship|
|Roger Federer (17)||Rafael Nadal (9)||3:30 a.m.||ESPN||Federer|
|ESPN.com; Silverman prediction|
That match demonstrated the essence of Federer's competitiveness. After he had won the first two sets, his opponent took all the momentum by winning the next two. It didn't seem realistic that the 35-year-old could turn things around in the fifth set, but that's just what he did to gain his spot in the final.
Federer and Nadal are both familiar Grand Slam champions. The former has won 17 titles in his remarkable career, while the latter has taken 14 of the elite championships.
The two have a notable rivalry and great respect for each other. "For me is a very, very special thing and for both of us to be in the final of a major after a couple of years of having some problems," Nadal said after his victory over Dimitrov, per Greg Garber of ESPN.com.
Federer has true admiration for Nadal's game. "I'm probably his No. 1 fan," the Swiss said, per Matt Wilansky of ESPN.com. "His game is tremendous. I'm happy we've had some epic battles over the years."
The four-time Australian Open champion has been one of the game's dominant players, but that has not been the case against Nadal. The Spaniard has a 23-11 career record against Federer. Nevertheless, he is thrilled to have the chance to play in a Grand Slam championship.
"I never, ever, in my wildest dream felt I was going to be coming this far in Australia, and here I am. It's beautiful. I'm so happy," said Federer.
Both men have overcome tremendous odds to get to the championship round, and the match figures to be a classic between two of the game's historical figures.
Nadal has certainly had a big advantage when playing Federer, but never underestimate or look past the Swiss superstar. This should be a back-and-forth match, and it would not be surprising to see it go the limit.
The 30-year-old's crafty forehand has given Federer problems in the past, but look for the even-keeled 17th seed to figure out his rival and take the title with a sensational showing in the fifth set.
Federer will win the 18th Grand Slam title of his career.