Nadal floors Federer in epic final

Rafa Nadal ground Roger Federer’s dreams of a record-equalling 14th grand slam singles crown into dust on Sunday, triumphing in a pulsating five-set Australian Open final.

The Mallorcan muscleman added the Melbourne Park trophy to his French and Wimbledon titles with an epic 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2 victory under floodlights, a victory which pierced Federer’s heart and left the Swiss in tears.

While Nadal cradled the silverware—the first Spaniard to do so in Melbourne—Federer broke down, unable to address a crowd which was giving him a standing ovation.

Nadal put his arm around his great rival before delivering an epitaph fitting such a momentous match.

“Sorry for today, I really know how you feel right now is really tough,” the world number one told the man whose top ranking he seized. “But remember, you are a great champion and you’re one of the best [in] history.”

So too must be Nadal who has, at the age of 22, won slams on all three surfaces—grass, clay and hardcourts—a feat Federer, who has lost in three French finals to the Spaniard, has failed to do.

“I love this game,” Federer said, disconsolate under a baseball cap bearing his initials. “It means the world to me, so it hurts when you lose.

“I had many chances.
I missed them and they cost me dearly. It was a tough match. I don’t think I served particularly well, unfortunately. I think that was the key to the match in the end.”

Sunday’s final was the one everybody had wanted to see. A fully-fit Federer against Nadal on a surface which favoured neither man.

It lived up to the hype.

It was the first five-set final here in 21 years and so close was the contest that Federer actually won more points in the match—174 to Nadal’s 173. It was the Spaniard, though, who clinched the key ones.

The quality of tennis played on Sunday can never have been seen before at Melbourne Park. Nor at Kooyong before it, nor the other cities to have staged the championships over the last 104 years.

The pair toyed with perfection on centre court, threading shots through the tightest of spaces and imparting spin which at times seemed to defy the laws of physics.

Federer was broken in the opening game but he broke straight back and that set the tone for the rest of the contest.

Nadal sought and found outrageous angles with his two-handed backhand. Federer found that difficult to handle with his classical, clean single-hander.

But he did put his extra reach to great effect, cracking winners past the Spaniard.

After a clutch of shanked backhands, Federer started running round that wing which opened up more angles for Nadal which he exploited to snatch the opener in 58 minutes.

Nadal was swinging his two-handed backhand like an axeman felling a giant redwood and Federer was on the back foot.

Always dangerous when he is down he punched back from being broken in the fifth game of the second set and broke twice himself to seal it 6-3 and level the match.

At that stage, Nadal’s semifinal—the longest in the tournament’s history at five hours 14 minutes long—looked to be weighing heavy on him but he dug deep.

The shots he chased down elicited more screams and squeals from the packed crowd than a fairground ghost train and the crowd was a sea of red and white, and red and yellow, incredulous faces.

Nothing could separate the two and the set inched into a tiebreak which Nadal won when his Swiss opponent double-faulted.

Federer again hit back and levelled in the fourth.

It appeared as if he was playing like the best tennis player of all time, but statistics speak louder than rhetoric in sport and they were on Nadal’s side in the fifth set.

As gulls whirled overhead, their white underbodies lit bright by the floodlights, the Spanish left-hander went after Federer.

He swept the baseline returning balls with an upward flourish of the forehand and fired his big, stinging groundstrokes at Federer’s backhand which once again ultimately broke down under the pressure and Nadal was crowned king after four hours 23 minutes of drama.

Nadal fell on his back and spread his arms wide, a sixth grand slam title in the bag. As Federer sadly packed his rackets away in his bag, Nadal trotted to his camp courtside, raising his arms aloft, with a smile from ear-to-ear.

“God, it’s killing me,” summed up a sobbing Federer during the presentation ceremony.

Federer must now wait for another tilt at Pete Sampras’s record of 14 grand slams. Moreover his claim to be the best tennis player of all time will be increasingly challenged by the Spaniard. - Reuters

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