Rafael Nadal has Roger Federer in tears
It was not quite another tennis masterpiece. The much-anticipated rematch between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland lacked the consistent quality and, above all, the crescendo to the finish of their five-act drama in fading light at Wimbledon last year.
MELBOURNE, Australia — It was not quite another tennis masterpiece. The much-anticipated rematch between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland lacked the consistent quality and, above all, the crescendo to the finish of their five-act drama in fading light at Wimbledon last year.
But the Australian Open final Sunday was epic entertainment. It also lasted five sets and more than four hours. It also featured plenty of abrupt reversals of fortune and unexpected breaks of serve. And it also ended with Nadal triumphant and Federer devastated.
Federer, 27, needed a victory to match American Pete Sampras' career record of 14 men's Grand Slam tournament singles titles. But Federer faded badly in the final set and was unable to keep his composure after Nadal's 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 6-2 victory.
In the ceremony after the match, Federer choked up after receiving the runner-up plate from one of his idols, Rod Laver, and was unable to get more than a few sentences into his speech before he began to cry in earnest.
"God, it's killing me," Federer said, eventually backing away from the microphone.
But this historic rivalry is also a friendly rivalry, despite all the power and spin the two well-mannered men use against each other when they are on opposite sides of a net. Thus it was no surprise Nadal, the first Spaniard to win a singles title here, was soon putting his left arm around Federer, putting his head against his opponent's and helping Federer pull himself together long enough to finish the speech.
"I don't want to have the last word; this guy deserves it," Federer said. "So, Rafa, congratulations. You played incredible. You deserve it, man."
It is difficult to argue with that concept.
To reach the final, top-ranked Nadal had to win the longest match in Australian Open history in the semifinal round, defeating compatriot Fernando Verdasco in a five-set, 5-hour, 14-minute classic. He had one day fewer than No. 2 Federer to prepare for the 19th installment of their rivalry. The 22-year-old Nadal underwent intense physical therapy in an attempt to recover the freshness of mind and body required to stop a man on a mission.
"I knew it was not going to affect him a lot," Federer said of Nadal's shorter preparation time. "It did not have any role to play in it, so I was ready for that."
Nadal, who is 13-6 against Federer, was not nearly so certain he would be in fine shape. After getting to sleep at 5 a.m. after his marathon semifinal, he woke about six hours later. He practiced lightly twice before the final.
"I was having a bit of trouble practicing," Nadal said through an interpreter. "I felt a little lightheaded when I practiced yesterday and today. I was pretty concerned, not being sure whether I could be at my best. It's tough feeling that way when it's your first final in Australia and you're not sure you're going to be 100 percent.
"But in the end, everything worked out well for me."
The process was hardly straightforward. Nadal needed 4 hours, 23 minutes to finish off Federer, who won one point more than Nadal did. Nadal rallied from 2-4 in the first set, breaking Federer in the next game with the help of two phenomenal winners on the run.
Nadal needed to save all six break points he faced in the third set, when he twice received treatment for a tight right thigh during changeovers.
"Winning the third was vital," Nadal said. "It would have gotten very complicated if I had lost that set."
He also needed Federer, the Australian Open champion in 2004, '06 and '07, to serve much less convincingly than usual. Federer put 52 percent of his first serves in play, by far his lowest percentage of the tournament. Federer managed to win the second set with a first-serve-in-play rate of 37 percent.
"Perhaps I should not have been out there in the fifth set at all," Federer, still red-eyed, said an hour after the match. "I should have won the first set and the third."
Early in his career, Nadal was considered a clay-court specialist. He has won four consecutive French Opens on clay, the 2008 Wimbledon title on grass and, in Melbourne, his first Grand Slam tournament on a hard court.
"I've worked very hard the last, well, all my life to improve the tennis outside of clay," said Nadal, who won the Olympic gold medal in August on a hard court in Beijing.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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