The final of the men’s singles at the 2017 Australian Open sees two old rivals clash for the 35th time when Roger Federer faces Rafael Nadal for the title on Sunday in Melbourne.
Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal
Of all the scenarios that I imagined ahead of this year’s Australian Open I did not expect Federer, Nadal and the Williams sisters to be the last four players standing come the second weekend.
It’s been a remarkable tournament in many ways, with Denis Istomin and Mischa Zverev cast in the unlikely roles of giant-killers, while Federer and Nadal have enjoyed an unexpected renaissance and will face off for the title on Sunday.
Federer’s participation in the final is quite incredible given his long injury lay off last season and that history is very much against the 35-year-old becoming the oldest man since Ken Rosewall to land a major title.
Neither man has won one for a while – Federer not since Wimbledon 2012 and Nadal not since the 2014 French Open – and Fed in particular may well see this as a last opportunity to land a Slam before the end of his career.
Federer has the advantage of having an extra day’s rest and having his feet up on Friday, while Nadal was straining every sinew over five hours to beat Grigor Dimitrov, but Fed may well need it.
The Swiss maestro has a groin strain and took a rare MTO in his semi final five set win over Stan Wawrinka and of this injury Federer said: “I just hoped that maybe having the physio work on it, that it would make me feel better. But it didn't.”
He continued: “The leg wasn't better or worse in the fifth. I felt tightness throughout the match, and I felt like it slowed me down.”
So, there’s one factor to consider, with Federer looking (to me at least) like he was almost done in the latter stages of the Wawrinka clash and I’m not at all convinced that he can keep up his best level for long enough these days to beat Nadal over five sets.
As we all know, the match-up has been a poor one for Federer over the years, with Nadal winning 23 of their 34 meetings and the Spaniard even leads the series 9-7 in matches played on hard courts.
Indeed, Federer has only once beaten Nadal over five sets on a hard court and that was in the 2005 Miami Open almost 12 years ago, and that match is also the only time that Fed has ever beaten Nadal on a hard court from a set down.
The Swiss is 2-17 versus this opponent when losing the opener and if I were backing Federer in this match I’d be more tempted by the set one win for him at 2.06 than the match as a whole at 2.10.
Nadal has beaten Federer from a set down six times and the 6.5 about him doing it again is even more tempting than simply Fed to win set one.
Neither man is quite the force of old, but Nadal leads all the key stats in this match-up and assuming he comes out of the Dimitrov match okay (and when has fatigue ever been an issue for the Spaniard in a major final?) he looks good value to me at around the 1.80 mark.
In these quick conditions I’d probably fancy Federer if it was played over the best-of-three and he was fresh, but I’m not sure I can see the Swiss maestro winning three sets against this particular opponent – one that he’s had so many problems with.
Dimitrov played very well against Rafa playing a similar game to Fed’s and couldn’t quite sustain it at 25-years-old, so it’s tough to see a guy a decade older with a groin strain managing it.
If Federer were to do it, not only would it be an amazing achievement, but it would also be only the second time in his career that he’s won a Grand Slam having played more than one five set match in the tournament.
The only time he’s done that so far was in winning the 2009 French Open and obviously he was a much younger man back then. This one looks to me like decent value on a Nadal win.
2 points win Nadal to beat Federer at 1.80