It’s a spectacle seldom seen, Roger Federer in tears in the face of failure. But this was the scene at the Australian Open where Federer fell to his archrival Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 2-6 in their first majors’ meeting on hardcourt.
The first game was reflective of the entire match. Federer made four consecutive errors including a double fault to start in a hole. Yet, the next game, Federer ripped a forehand down the line winner to get back to 1 all. Serving exclusively to the backhand side, Nadal got a ton of unforced errors from Federer. Then, in the sixth game, Federer curled a backhand winner up the line for 0-15 and with a forehand winner up the line obtained a break point. Roger converted by running around his backhand for a forehand service winner for 4-2. However, Roger’s lead was brief. With a backhand crosscourt winner, Rafa arrived at break point and capitalized when Roger donated a double fault. Serving at 5-6, Roger made two forehand unforced errors giving Nadal the break and ultimately the set.
At 1-2 in the second set, Nadal swept away a break point from Federer with his first ace and held. With two forehand misses from Federer, Nadal broke promptly. But, when Nadal overhit a forehand, the score was leveled at 3. At 4-3, with his fifth break point of the game, Federer saw Nadal dump a backhand crosscourt into the net giving him the break. This time, Roger closed out the set.
In the third set, serving at 2-3, Federer got into trouble when another backhand crosscourt found the net and gave Nadal break point. With a forehand crosscourt winner, Roger saved break point for the first time in the match and held. At 4 all, Nadal made a rare backhand crosscourt error and two forehand errors to stare at triple break point. With crosscourt winners from each wing and a Federer forehand error, Nadal was at deuce and carried the game. After an uneventful service game, Federer again cornered Nadal for double break point. Nadal escaped when Federer sent a backhand service return into the net and overcooked a forehand. The set’s proprietor was settled in a tiebreak. After a forehand error by Nadal handed Federer a minibreak, Roger returned the favor with an error of his own. Tied at 3, as Federer’s crosscourt forehand failed to clear the net, Nadal had the minibreak. Federer culminated his largesse by double faulting the set away.
After getting a 2-0 advantage with a forehand down the line winner in the fourth set, Federer lost his serve when Nadal passed him at net. Living on the edge at 2 all, Federer saved four break points in a seven deuce game to stay on serve. In the subsequent game, aided by a few unforced errors from Nadal, Federer broke and hung on to claim the set.
After a 5 hour 14 minute semifinal against countryman Fernando Verdasco on Friday, remarkably, Nadal was the one with all the answers in the decisive set while Federer withered. Serving at 1-2 and ahead 30-0, Federer overshot the forehand, double faulted and committed two backhand errors gifting Nadal the break. Then serving at 2-5 to extend the match, Federer became unhinged with the match ending on a forehand error.
For Federer, this match, just like their previous six encounters in finals, can be summed up as a case of multiple break point opportunities blown. Or to the contrary, Nadal may be the master at delivering the goods when the chips are down. Federer is to Andy Roddick as Nadal is to Federer, a slick wall impossible to climb. Today, not only did Rafa prevent Federer from matching Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors, he also became the first Spaniard to win down under. Considering that the next major is the French, it’s unlikely that Federer will equal or surpass Pete’s mark anytime soon. So for now, Sampras can exhale.