It is not great viewing on first look – Rafael Nadal has an overwhelming margin over the Swiss including the 2008-2009 years which Federer himself admits had gotten into his head.
But the playing field has levelled somewhat – Nadal has suffered on and off with injuries that have left him a leaner, and some would argue less powerful model than perhaps the one that crushed Federer in the 2008 French Open, and then went on to win arguably one of the most epic Wimbledon finals of all time.
But people are just happy to see Federer back and in this position and that has freed him up to play lights out tennis this week. He may just be swinging a little more free out there, and that is a dangerous thing.
Whether you love or loathe the Swiss, you cannot deny that his balletic style of play, and the sheer depth of variety in his game has helped him not only raise the bar of men’s tennis at a time when it was inundated with fast servers, and it has brought a bigger variety of player to the field.
Federer can move about the court (as can Nadal, to be fair) but for our money he just has more weapons in his arsenal to try whereas while Nadal’s confidence is returning to his forehand, and he is fairly nimble about the lines himself, there is a brutality to his shots that Federer can run rings around when his game is on.
Federer has absolutely nothing to prove to anyone anymore. His targets now are his own and the pursuit of #18 comes a little closer. As the lower seed and a six month lay-off how many would assume he would be able to live with Nadal’s pace?
Of course the Spaniard knows that long lay-offs just sharpens the hunger to come back stronger, while he is still chasing records of his own. Again the lack of any expectation that he will just waltz away with the title could free Federer up to play cat and mouse with Nadal – which let’s face it we all want.
We’re going to come out and say it – Hopman Cup was a nice bit of fun (we won’t mention the bongos) and probably helped get Federer moving again, and fellow old boy Jurgen Melzer must have enjoyed taking a set off him in the opener.
But where Federer really impressed was how he demolished the old-school serve and volley tactics of Mischa Zverev and his battle with Stan Wawrinka should be seen as him setting down a marker that he has what it takes to battle right to the end. We expect it from Nadal who makes every encounter a gruelling physical grunt-fest that sends pets dashing from rooms for cover.
Nadal needs to expect Federer to be on the attack from the outset – it really is his only chance to dent the Bull’s horns.
Well at this stage of a tournament no-one is fresh anymore – the fans setting their alarms, the journalists, the players – but again as Nadal will well know, the benefits of an extended lay-off not just refreshes the body but the mind as well.
Federer has admitted that he did not want to leave tennis on a knee injury that came from running a bath! We saw how incredible Nadal’s ascension was after his long lay off – he returned rejuvenated and more than that, grateful for a chance to have another crack at the tour.
Nadal’s comeback after the wrist issues has been remarkable in itself, especially when you look at the havoc created to other player’s careers by similar issues. That both these tennis icons are the last men standing is remarkable and a fitting end to the tournament – but the icing on the cake will be Federer making his point that Slam title #18 is coming his way.
Federer and Nadal will play the Australian Open 2017 final on Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.
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