If nothing else, the 2017 Australian Open has proved that time travel is indeed possible. With the Serena and Venus Williams facing off for the ladies trophy and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal slated to slug it out in the men’s final, this tournament feels like it was plucked straight out of the mid-2000s. Here is a look at Roger/Rafa volume 35.
Despite being possibly the two greatest players that ever lived, the fact that these two will face off in a Grand Slam final again is a huge surprise. Federer is always a threat on the grass of Wimbledon, and the same is true of Nadal on the clay of Roland Garros. However, the two hardcourt majors have been dominated by Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in recent years. Federer has not tasted Grand Slam glory outside of Wimbledon since this event in 2010. Other than the French Open, Nadal has not hoisted a Grand Slam trophy since the 2013 U.S. Open.
Given that, and the fact that both of these all-time greats have struggled with injuries recently, a run to the finals of this Australian Open was highly unlikely for both of them. When Djokovic and Murray fell victim to early upsets, that all began to change. Federer coasted, and Nadal grinded through the draw. Federer’s form after missing the last six months of 2016 with a knee injury has been astonishing. Other than two five setters, he has had his way with his opponents. Nadal’s score lines have looked similar, but his style of play remains infinitely more physical than that of the Swiss man. Look at the action shots below. If you study them for a moment, they say an awful lot about that difference in physicality.
Nadal leads the head to head 23-11 and 6-2 in Grand Slam finals. In fact, Federer has never beaten the Spanish lefty at a Grand Slam other than Wimbledon. Not much thought should be given to those numbers though. It has been six years since they met in a Grand Slam final and eight years since they played the final in Australia. So much has changed in that time for both great champions. Regardless, we as fans are so fortunate to still have these two class acts playing at such a high level.
As strange as it sounds, in tennis years, 35 year old Federer is younger than 30 year old Nadal. Prior to his freak knee injury suffered while bathing his daughters last year, Federer was never injured, he played in the main draw of 65 straight Grand Slam events. He has his free, easy, and graceful style to thank for that. Moreover, the time off last year seems to have done him some good and may extend his career.
On the other hand, Nadal has missed extended time with knee, back, wrist and appendix issues in recent years. It is amazing that he finds himself in this spot again, but it is hard for me to trust his body after two weeks on hardcourts. Recent history says it will break down, either by injury or general fatigue and loss of stamina. We saw it happen in the finals of the 2014 Australian Open against Stan Wawrinka. Federer’s serve is the difference as he gets Grand Slam title number 18 to extend his own record. The Pick: Federer in four sets.
The match will air live at 3:30 AM ET Sunday morning on ESPN with a second showing at 9 AM ET on ESPN 2. I once said I would watch these two legends compete at hopscotch. Thus, I am beyond excited that we get to see them compete on one of the biggest stages in tennis at least one more time. The rest of the world should be too.