No.1 for No.1
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal has confirmed his place at the pinnacle of men’s tennis following a classic five-set victory over world No. 2 Roger Federer in the final of Australian Open 2009.
It was a battle worthy of a major final, and the world’s top two players put on a memorable performance before the Spaniard triumphed 7-5 3-6 7-6(3) 3-6 6-2 after four hours and 23 minutes on court.
It is the third time in the last four Grand Slam events that Nadal and Federer have played the championship match, and again it was Nadal who emerged triumphant, winning his first Australian Open title.
Despite vastly greater experience playing in the latter stages of the tournament at Melbourne Park, Federer began nervously, throwing in a double-fault and shanking two backhands to be broken immediately.
He quickly erased Nadal’s advantage in the next game, winning a torrid battle that featured several game and break points before tying scores at 1-1.
The two men seemed to settle into the contest from that point, trading service holds. This changed in the sixth game, however, when Federer cranked up his game and broke serve following two forehand winners, moving ahead 4-2.
Nadal returned the favour in the next game, playing two spectacular running winners to bring up break point before a Federer double fault got the match back on serve.
Games went on serve until the 11th game, in which Nadal produced a deft drop shot winner and forehand pass to go up 6-5. He served out the set in the next game after nearly an hour of play.
Games comfortably progressed on serve early in the second set until Federer had a chance to break in the fourth game. He would rue being unable to convert this opportunity – the Spaniard held serve and then subsequently broke thanks to a series of cracking backhand winners.
But instead of carrying on with his momentum, Nadal folded, gifting Federer the break back with a double fault and an error.
Federer lifted his intensity and found the range on his groundstrokes, winning four straight games to tie proceedings at one set apiece. The decisive break came in the eighth game, in which both players displayed superb shot-making before Federer finally converted his fifth break point.
Despite now being in the driver’s seat and winning the second set relatively comfortably, things weren’t all going the Swiss champion’s way. He was wasteful in converting break points, and his first serve percentage was languishing below 50 per cent.
The latter statistic was exposed when he found himself in trouble on serve in the sixth game of the third set. Despite facing break point, he hit out bravely from the baseline to level scores at 3-3.
The former was on show in the ninth and 11th games. Federer played sublime tennis to conjure up bundles of break points – six in all across the two games – but was unable to convert any.
It was Federer’s set to win, and his inability to take advantage of his chances would cost him dearly. The fact that Nadal twice had treatment for a cramping thigh during the set further highlighted a missed opportunity.
The set progressed to a tiebreak, with the Spaniard reaching three set points after playing a lovely angled volley to end a breathtaking point. He duly converted on his first to take a two-sets-to-one lead.
Holding in the opening game of the fourth, Federer took the upper hand by breaking in the next to lead 2-0. Nadal was not discouraged, breaking back immediately to put the pressure right back on his illustrious opponent.
But the effects of the Spaniard’s five-set marathon against Fernando Verdasco in Friday night’s semifinal were becoming visible. Federer noticed his opponent fatiguing, and in what would turn out to be an epic fifth game, he tested Nadal’s movement with several sneaky drop shots.
Nadal struggled to chase these down, but still managed to bring up five break points in a game that featured scintillating baseline rallies, all areas of the court utilised, and a whopping seven deuces. Like Federer earlier in the match, Nadal could not convert, allowing the Swiss to level at 3-3.
It proved a telling service hold – Federer went on to win the next three games against his increasingly deflated opponent to take the match into a fifth set.
But where you thought the No. 2 seed would use this momentum to stamp his authority on the match, Nadal mustered incredible mental and physical energy to gain a break in the fourth game.
Federer, somewhat bizarrely, went walkabout – his game descended into a mass of errors as Nadal continued to surge ahead.
Serving at 2-5 down, Federer committed an error and a double fault to find himself in a precarious position. Another error two points later brought up championship points for the Spaniard, which Federer saved after some tense rallying.
This merely delayed the inevitable, as Nadal clinched the title on his third match point after another error from the Swiss.
He collapsed to the court on his back, fatigued yet elated to capture his first major championship on hardcourt.
For the match, Federer won 174 points to Nadal’s 173
Nadal served at 63 per cent for the match; Federer’s first serve percentage was just 51
Federer had 71 winners and 64 unforced errors, while Nadal had 50 winners and 41 unforced errors
Nadal won 27 points to 16 in the final set, which was the shortest of the match at 33 minutes