Yesterday, I chose consciously not to preview either of the men’s semi-finals. After all, what is to be said that hasn’t already been said countless times before? For instance, we knew that the bottom half semi-final would be played much higher than in the shape or shots of the two players involved (Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal): in the head.
And in the head it was played.
The 27th meeting between these two greats of the sport was at the image of most of their latest Grand Slam matches: Roger Federer started extremely strong, albeit a little shaky at times. Then Rafael Nadal went a gear higher and Federer started doubting, thus basically killing all of his chances of ever dominating the majority of the rallies, let alone win the match.
It’s a recipe that has been tried time and time again. However, I have to say, like many tennis fans, that regardless of our preference for one or for the other (for instance, as usual, I was rooting for Federer), the best we could do was to sit back and enjoy the show, as we were treated to a great tennis match once again. If you haven’t seen it, you can see the highlights on the Australian Open website, that I sadly cannot embed here due to the restrictions that, as usual, apply for those (like me) unfortunate enough to live in Canada.
For 3:42, we were treated, for the most part, to tennis of an extremely high level, perhaps not matching that of their extraordinary Wimbledon final back in 2008 (the greatest match of all times), but high enough to make fans everywhere enjoy the superb tennis delivered by both players.
Of course, Roger Federer made an incredible amount of 63 unforced errors during the whole match (for 46 winners, including 11 aces), but in all objectivity, I think that, as usual, most of them were the direct consequence of the relentless retrieving and incredible angle creating of his opponent. Yes, of course, Nadal looked for the backhand, but as he said himself after the match, Federer’s backhand was quite solid and so he processed to destroy the forehand instead. It worked.
“Today I think I played more normal match, playing in his backhand, playing in his forehand, too.
I really wanted to do that before the match, because I felt that in the last match against him in London he played very aggressive with his backhand, so he was very inside the court. Was very difficult for me to find, you know, spaces to move him, no?” ~ Rafael Nadal
However, those (and they were many) who say that Rafael Nadal only defended and played percentage tennis are in the wrong. Yes, he made less winners and unforced errors than Federer but he did play aggressive tennis, creating spaces with incredible angles and using his amazing athleticism to generate even more chances either for him to strike with the winner or for Federer to make an inevitable error. As a matter of fact, Nadal finished the match with 36 winners, including 4 aces, which are not statistics of a player who just plays defensive and/or percentage tennis.
I am not denying here that he did play percentage at times, but reducing his win only to that or his defensive play, as I have seen a lot a little everywhere today, is, in my opinion, a gross and very bad exaggeration of what really happened in the match.
This said, that 6-7(5) 6-2 7-6(5) 6-4 win of the Spaniard, making him the first finalist of the Autralian Open, was a match to watch way beyond the rivalry Federer – Nadal: it was a match to enjoy and in which to see the better, and the worse, of both. From the ballet-dancing footwork of the Swiss to the Rocky-like athleticism of the Spaniard, we were in for a tennis treat of the highest sort and if the match wasn’t the epic of some of their encounters, it was such an entertaining display of tennis that it’s quite a shame it didn’t go the distance.
Let’s just hope that tomorrow’s (since it’s at 3:30 AM ET) semi-final will be as entertaining as this one was.
(Photos: Getty Images)