Australian Open 2017 Men's Final: Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal Preview

Brian MarronFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2017

Spain's Rafael Nadal of the Indian Aces (R) and Switzerland's Roger Federer of the Japan Warriors greet each other during practice at the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) event in New Delhi on December 12, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP / SAJJAD HUSSAIN        (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
SAJJAD HUSSAIN/Getty Images

One magical run for possibly a final Grand Slam win will be completed Sunday, while another will come to an unfortunate end, as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal square-off in the 2017 Australian Open men's final.

Both legends defied time and a competitive field to reach this point, setting up what could be the last time Federer and Nadal play for a Grand Slam title. This will certainly be match to savor, so expect plenty of passion to emanate in Melbourne, Australia.

Here is a look at the schedule for this final, as well as preview of its context and what to watch for.

2017 Australian Open Men's Final Schedule
DateStart Time (ET)NetworkLive Stream
Sunday, Jan. 293:30 a.m.ESPNWatch ESPN
ESPN.com

 

Match Preview

With Federer holding the record for most men's Grand Slam titles with 17, and Nadal having 14 such championships of his own, it is no wonder these two combined to form the sport's top rivalry of the past decade. As a result, both players possess tremendous respect for the other.

"Rafa's definitely presented the biggest challenge," Federer said after his semifinal win over Stan Wawrinka, per ESPN's Matt Wilansky. "I played him too many times on clay early in my career, and it affected how I played him on other surfaces. This court allows me to play offense.

"I'm probably his No. 1 fan. His game is tremendous. I'm happy we've had some epic battles over the years."

Nadal is also sure to enjoy the nostalgia of the meeting, which he acknowledged after he downed Grigor Dimitrov in five-set thriller in the semifinals, per Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times.

"It's special to play with Roger again in a final of a Grand Slam," Nadal said. "I cannot lie. It's great. It's exciting for me, and for both of us, that we're still there and we're still fighting for important events."

Given Federer's age and the injury history of both players, these two may never meet again on such an important stage. The Swiss is actually going for a historic mark on Sunday, per the ATP:

That will certainly be tough for Federer, as Nadal has been strong when these two meet. The 30-year-old Spaniard is 23-11 against Federer in his professional career, including 9-2 in Grand Slams.

Nadal is known for his mastery of clay courts, so Federer's chances could improve on the hard surface in Melbourne. However, Nadal owns an 8-6 advantage in hard-court matches in addition to a 3-0 mark at the Australian Open.

This past success obviously bodes well for Nadal, which could help out his legacy in the eyes of some tennis observers. There is often a debate about whether one of these two is the greatest player ever, and former tennis star Andy Roddick believes this match could go a long way in that discussion.

"The historical context of that match, whether it becomes 17-15 with the French Open next, or 18-14, that's such a big difference in the historical march for both those guys," Roddick said, per the Associated Press' Justin Bergman.

"That might be, as far as history goes, the biggest match ever in Australian Open history and maybe Grand Slam history. What's at stake there is beyond what pretty much any player can comprehend."

So far in this tournament, each have posted impressive numbers while having to go five sets twice apiece. Yet Federer has been slightly more efficient. He won at least 75 percent of his first-serve points in five of his six matches, and he is averaging 34 unforced errors per outing. 

Conversely, Nadal has been less effective when serving, winning at least 75 percent twice on first serve. However, Nadal is averaging just under 31 unforced errors a match, but Federer's 31 return-game victories edges Nadal's 27.

Winning the first set will also be crucial, as each player excels when doing so. Federer goes on to win 93 percent of the time he wins the first set, while winning just 40 percent when losing it. Comparably, Nadal wins 94 percent of the time with a win in the first and 43 percent with a loss.

Nadal has dropped the first set just once in this tournament, against Alexander Zverev in the third round, while Federer spectacularly came back after losing the first against No. 5 seed Kei Nishikori in the fourth round.

Nadal is the favorite to win based on his knack for solving Federer, but the latter arguably looks sharper at the moment. His sense of urgency may be larger as well considering the age discrepancy, and his momentum could not be greater during this sensational run.

This one will undoubtedly be tight, and no matter the outcome, expect an instant classic on Sunday.

 

All career statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com, and all tournament statistics are courtesy of AUSOpen.com unless otherwise noted.