(17) Roger Federer vs. (9) Rafael Nadal
Ricky (The Grandstand): Nadal vs. Federer?!?!?! And not even to mention Serena vs. Venus?!?!?! In the words of legendary Green Bay Packers’ head coach Vince Lombardi, “What the hell’s going on out here?” The Australian Open is always awesome, but it has been especially so this year. And the last match should not disappoint, because it adds another chapter to one of the greatest rivalries in tennis history. And it will likely be competitive, too. Nadal is dominating the head-to-head series 23-11, including 9-2 at Grand Slams and 3-0 at the Australian Open. He has even won the majority of their hard-court encounters (9-7). But the playing field could be evened out by two factors: 1) the conditions Down Under are slightly faster than usual, and 2) Nadal has one less day of rest and he is coming off a four-hour and 56-minute battle against Grigor Dimitrov.
Still, the head-to-head dominance is hard to ignore and so, too, are the obvious tactics that Nadal has always used to combat Federer. The Spaniard, who has proven time and again that he can bounce back in style from grueling efforts, will once again pound away at Federer’s one-handed back with spinning serves out wide to the ad court and with heavy topspin forehands. Nadal in 4: 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(5), 7-5.
Joey (Cliff Drysdale Tennis): Federer and Nadal are two of the all-time greatest, and I think most including myself would have said 12 months ago that the two meeting in a major final was impossible. While this match is going to be fantastic for the sport of tennis, I don’t think it will be a great match overall. At the end of the day, any time Nadal steps on a non-indoor court with Federer, he is going to play at a ridiculous level. The pattern is as simple as it gets; just rip heavy forehands cross court. He was hitting that shot well against Dimitrov, and there’s literally no reason to think anything different will happen on Sunday.
Federer’s run to the final was incredible, and this result is stunning at 35 years old. But he is a heavy, heavy underdog. I see the match going something like this: first set Federer serves well, is holding easily, gets into a tiebreaker. Nadal hits one of his signature banana passing shots from 20 feet behind the baseline to win the ‘breaker and then forces Federer to play at least eight good backhands in every baseline rally. He runs away with the final two sets. And don’t even think about Nadal having fitness problems here. If either of the two were to have an issue, it would be Federer. Nadal in 3: 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-3.
Using one of his favorite adjectives, Nadal’s serve in this year’s tournament has been “amazing.” In his semifinal victory against Dimitrov, we saw Nadal continue to stymie the Bulgarian with several off-speed serves. Federer has seen this act before and it creates lack of rhythm for the 17-time major champion. Federer’s break-point conversion rate through six matches is an impressive 48 percent. Historically, Federer has created more trouble for himself throughout his career for failing to take care of business in breaking his opponent when the opportunity arises. Nadal’s effective serving will continue and as a result, it will not allow Federer to have too many break points on Sunday. Many times Federer has outplayed Nadal convincingly through two sets, only to find himself level at a set apiece–a maddening proposition that we will see yet again in this final. Nadal in 5: 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.
All of that said, this is a fast hard court and Federer has played fantastic tennis throughout the tournament. Nadal still hasn’t won a hard-court title in three years, and Federer is hardly an easy opponent. This is a tough match to predict, but I’ll go with Federer in four sets on this surface and in these conditions. Federer in 4: 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.