Today, Roger Federer claimed his fifth year-end ATP finals title with a superlative performance over a defiant, but defeated world number one, Rafael Nadal, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
In the 22nd meeting of an illustrious rivalry that will leave a great legacy for the game for years to come, Nadal and Federer captivated audiences world-wide with a final that sparkled with explosive shot making, drama and as many twists and turns as a Shakespeare play.
The world number one and two are polar opposites with one thing in common; an extraordinary will to win. While many began to question Federer’s mental strength following his failure to capitalize on two match points against an often mentally fragile Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the US Open earlier in the year, Federer seemed to have shrugged off any niggling doubts of his own authority in matches in the run up to the final.
Questions have also been raised about Nadal’s physical problems. A shoulder injury in his serving arm caused Nadal to take a five week break before the ATP Finals and his recurring knee problems are always a concern. Many wondered how Nadal’s body would cope after a grueling three set match against Britain’s Andy Murray in the semi-finals. The tennis world waited with baited breath to see how the latest act in tennis’ greatest rivalry since Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras would play out.
In the opening set, Nadal described Federer as “unplayable” and it was evident from the outset that the Swiss Maestro was back to his absolute best. The players went tactically toe to toe until the seventh game when Nadal’s continued tactic of playing to Federer’s backhand backfired spectacularly. With a superb cross court winner from that wing, Federer gained the break of serve. Then, the former world number one closed out the first set 6-3 with a forehand winner in just 32 minutes.
But, with a dramatic swing of momentum, like an incensed lion released from its cage, Nadal characteristically pounced on Federer’s drop in form in the second set. By switching tactics, Nadal secured a break of serve in the fourth game through working the Federer forehand with spectacular success. Federer took a tumble in the fifth game following an unkind net cord for Nadal and so did his form, allowing the Spaniard to pull ahead with a comfortable 4-1 lead.
The remainder of the second set went with serve. Nadal held his nerve after losing the first point when serving out the set at 5-3 by finishing Federer off with a wonderfully executed backhand slice right at the master’s feet. Game on.
It seemed as if Nadal had all of the momentum. But instead, the first set appeared to foreshadow the deciding one as Federer regained his composure to tell the world and all who ever doubted him that he was back.
Brimming with a new found confidence and possibly with fresh direction from his new coach, Paul Annacone (former coach of Tim Henman), Federer hugged the baseline and ventured forward forcing Nadal into more unforced errors from the outset.
Federer gained his first break of serve in the third game following a tense hawk-eye heart thumping moment of pure drama to give him the opportunity of a break point which he finished off with a volley. Nadal made him work especially hard for the following hold of serve, but a flurry of fantastic first serves and an ace at the end secured Federer a 4-1 lead.
With a backhand cross court return straight out of the textbook, Federer broke again. There would be no comeback for a visibly tired Nadal as a calm Federer stepped up to serve for the match at 5-1.
Once again, Federer’s attacking tactics served him well as he closed down the net to give himself three match points. Despite saving one, Nadal succumbed to a well and truly rejuvenated Roger Federer, who lifted the ATP World Tour Finals trophy aloft to the sounds of Coldplay’s iconic, ‘Fix you’. Annacone certainly has fixed Roger.
By winning the year-end event, Federer has reignited the rivalry between two of the world’s greatest ever tennis players. Federer and Nadal revealed the upmost respect for one another in their on court post match interviews, congratulating each other on yet another fantastic year. But who will reign supreme in 2011?
Former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if Roger Federer isn’t the world number one at the end of next year.”
While former British number one, Tim Henman conceded: “Rafa looked a bit jaded after the Murray match.”
Whatever will transpire between the two in 2011, one thing remains, the balance of power has once again shifted – for the moment, at least.
Melina Harris also reports on twitter under the username @thetenniswriter