Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Titans Collide . . . Again

One more time .. .

In the wee hours of our morning, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer faced one another on a tennis court  for the 35th time in their careers, and the ninth time with a Grand Slam championship at stake.  It seemed that half of Australia was there.

One More Time . . .

On this same Melbourne court in 2009 they played five agonizing sets.  Federer’s serve deserted him and Nadal won. Federer, weeping, said, “God, it’s killing me.” Nadal led 6-2 in Grand Slam finals between the two men and 23-11 overall.  The consensus in tennis circles held that this 35th meeting would be the Legacy Match. Federer had won 17 Grand Slam championships, the most in history, and Nadal had won 14, tied with Pete Sampras for second-most.

One More Time . . .

Federer played a flawless first set.  As usual, Nadal set out to break down Federer's backhand, relentlessly pounding the world's most spin-heavy ground strokes to that side.  But when it's "on," Federer's one- hander is at least the equal of any in the world.  It was "on."  First blood to Roger, 6-4.

One More Time

Their contrasting styles have made their competitions into one of the greatest tennis rivalries ever.  Nadal, now 30, has been the epitome of power, hitting shots from behind the baseline with unprecedented depth and spin.   Federer, now 35, has been the epitome of elegance and grace hitting virtually every shot known to man with balletic skill.  The second set was vintage Nadal: two early breaks, cannon fire to Roger's increasingly erratic forehand.  Nadal, 6-3.

One More Time . . 

Nadal, whose fighting, scrambling style and tortuous ground strokes take a heavy toll on his physique, has suffered several career interruptions because of injury.  Federer, until last year, had played virtually his entire career without serious injury.  Both men were making comebacks in this Australian Open and neither expected to make the final. But here they were again.

Federer started the third set as Nadal had begun the second, getting an early break, then another to go up 5-1, serving for the set.  A forehand error let Nadal get to 30 all. Open the door a crack and Rafa breaks it down.  Federer staved off a break point, then took the set 6-1 with another pair of fine backhands to set up the clinching volleys.  We were seeing the full panoply of skiils that had made each man No. 1 in the world, Federer for more than 300 weeks, Nadal for nearly 150.

One More Time . . .

Federer continued to hit magnificent backhands, including a down-the-line service return winner, but his forehand errors mounted, the 19th letting Nadal break serve for 3-1 in the fourth set. Roger fought back in a gruelling fifth game, but another costly forehand error and a great Nadal reply to Federer's good crosscourt backhand put Rafa in command at 4-1. Parry and thrust.  Thrust and parry.  Two old war horses showing the kids how grown-ups do it. Fourth set to Nadal, 6-3.  Another five-set classic between the two finest players of their time -- perhaps of all time.

One More Time . . .

Federer, misfiring on two more forehands, allowed Nadal to break serve on the very first game of the deciding set.  The script was beginning to look familiar. Federer made a fight of it in game four, but could not convert his break chances. Nadal held for 3-1 with a mean serve to Roger's navel. Federer held serve.  They began game six with an 18-shot rally that Roger won with  a sizzling crosscourt backhand. Roger hit the very same shot to set up the service break that put him even at 3-3. Up 4-3 at deuce on Nadal's serve, Roger won a 25-shot rally, one of the great  points in championship tennis history.  Finally, on his sixth break point, he converted to lead 5-3. But this was Nadal, the Nemesis, across the net.  Roger needed an ace and a superb inside-out forehand to get to match point.  And in this 35th contest, not even the Nemesis could deny him.  Federer, 6-3.  His 18th Grand Slam title.  Oldest man to win a slam since "ageless" Ken Rosewall in 1972.

Best of all time?  Let others argue the point.  i just watched a helluva tennis match between two great players.  One more time.

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