Australian Open final expert picks: Nadal vs. Federer

What was a dream (for many) is now a reality. It will be Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer for the Australian Open title on Sunday night in Melbourne. A four-team panel previews the final and makes its predictions.

(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.

Pete (Tennis Acumen): Federer is making his first visit to the Australian Open final since 2010, when he won the tournament for the fourth time. Nadal has been a finalist as recently as 2014, when he defeated Federer en route to the final (lost to Stan Wawrinka). The Spaniard won his lone Australian Open title in 2009, also against Federer in the title match. Comparable to 2009, Nadal enters this championship match having played an extremely lengthy five-set semifinal. Federer encountered a tricky five-set semifinal of his own in defeating Wawrinka. History in this special rivalry has taught us much: Nadal creates problems for Federer that simply do not exist for the Swiss against any other player he has ever faced in his career. Yes, Federer has indeed defeated Nadal on 11 occasions, but he has concurrently been on the losing end a massive 23 times against his nemesis.

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.

Steen Kirby (Tennis Atlantic): Both players come off five-setters, but Nadal has one day less to rest and prepare and he played a more physical match against Dimitrov than Federer had against Wawrinka. Nadal’s spin has always troubled Federer, and that’s why he leads the head-to-head by a wide margin.

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.

64 Comments on Australian Open final expert picks: Nadal vs. Federer

  1. I’ll be rooting hard for Fed, but I gotta take Rafa in 5. Rafa looks like he’s back to his summer of 2013 form. The bottom line is he’s just a tough match-up for Fed and I don’t see that changing now.

  2. Would dearly love Federer to somehow find a way through, but have watched all their matches and they generally have an sense of inevitability about the outcome. Rafa makes Federer question himself like nobody on tour. Federer gets handcuffed in the backhand corner and eventually makes the error. He usually creates many break point opportunities, but has a poor conversion rate. Tomorrow he has to come in to net and keep coming in even when passed. He also has to serve incredibly and not make errors. For 4/5 hours. Just can’t see that it’s possible and see Rafa will win in 3/4.

  3. Cant predict..It can go either way. H2H means nothing is a new match now. Both are older, coming off injuries. Fed will come up with various tactics and will play loose . Rafa will want the double career slam very badly and hope that does not unnerve him.

    This match will have its ups and downs . I just hope Rafa wins so that he gets his double career slam. He has had unfortunate endings last 2 times (lost to Novak in 2012 a very close match) and against Stan in injured. Hope he closes it this time.

  4. Also I am not sure which history pattern will repeat.. Fed as no 17 seed winning his slam against his biggest rival (just as Pete did in 2002 against Agassi as no 17 seed) or Rafas 2009 all over again (Verdasco-Dimi 5 hours match and now final against Fed who played 1 day earlier, has more rest etc)

  5. I would not be this nervous had there been no double career slam on the line for Rafa., I want that double career slam very badly for Rafa. He deserves that milestone.

    Fed – have your 18 at Wimby , not here please:-)

  6. Carlos Moya has only been part of the Rafael Nadal camp for a short time but the former world No.1 has already made a big impression.

    After overseeing Canadian star Milos Raonic’s rise to No.3 in the world last year, Moya joined Nadal’s coaching team in December.

    The French Open champion, a long-time friend of Rafa’s, has brought a fresh perspective that has been a key factor in the Spaniard’s run to the Australian Open final.

    “It has been a very good thing for Rafael. He (Moya) was a No.1 player and he knows what happens in certain moments,” Toni Nadal said.

    “I think for Rafael he’s provided a different view of the tennis.

    “He was a friend for many years on the circuit and now what he can do for Rafael is very important.

    “In tennis as a coach it’s not only what you say … it’s how, when and who says these things as well.

    “I believe that in this moment if Carlos says something it’s good for Rafael to hear.”

    Moya cited a busy travel schedule as one of the main reasons behind his split with Raonic.

    The father of three, who lives not far from Nadal on the Spanish island of Mallorca, won’t be required to travel as often in his new role, which includes key responsibilities with Nadal’s tennis academy.

    Working with Nadal, 30, who is coming off a serious wrist injury, presented a different challenge to mentoring the younger Canadian.

    Despite their long-standing friendship, Moya wanted to sound out Nadal before signing on.

    “I wanted to speak to Rafa to see what his goals are, his ambitions … to see if he still had what it takes to get back to the top and win slams again,” Moya told AAP.

    “After I saw he was ready for that I didn’t hesitate at all.

    “It’s been (good) … I think I bring a view from outside.

    “I’m not an unknown for them but I’ve been doing my own thing over the last year. I think I have similar ideas to what they have but maybe a few fresh things from someone who hasn’t been in the team.”

  7. Cash calling Rafa a choker (:-
    Nadal’s charge to his first major final since winning the 2014 French Open has many tipping the Spaniard will land his 15th grand slam title and draw to within two of Federer’s record 17 on Sunday night.

    Cash, though, believes the baseline warrior is susceptible to an attacking onslaught from the revitalised Federer, who hasn’t beaten his great rival at a major in almost 10 years.

    Cash said Nadal’s frailties were exposed during his sapping five-set semi-final win over Grigor Dimitrov.

    “Under pressure, Rafa’s not playing too good,” the two-time Open finalist told AAP on Saturday.

    “He’s choking on serve returns; always (hitting) really short and just misses returns.

    “Last night, he had break points but just missed second-serve returns. Like, come on.

    “He gets tight under pressure now.”

    Cash said while Federer and others like Dimitrov with single-handed backhands historically struggled to cope with Nadal’s ferocious, high-spinning forehands, the faster Melbourne Park courts this year would definitely favour Federer.

  8. Surprisingly most greats are leaning towards Roger


    ROD LAVER: “I’m really not judging if one is favoured over the other because both know each other’s game. If he serves well, maybe Roger has an edge. But I couldn’t go much further than that because I don’t know. When you look at Nadal’s forehand whipped into Roger’s backhand, I do know that Roger said a few years ago: ‘I’ve got to do something’. So he got a larger-headed racquet and a little bit more power in weight so now, when there’s this heavy topspin comes in (at him), he won’t have to slice it as much, which allows Nadal to get around it and be aggressive with that forehand a little more.”

    ROY EMERSON: “Every time I pick Federer because he’s my favourite. He’s serving awfully well and, when he serves well, he’s difficult over five sets. Rafa is in great physical shape and he’s also difficult over five sets. With Federer taking a medical break after two sets, no one knows how he is (physically).”

    JOHN NEWCOMBE: “Roger’s game suits Rafa, but he does have an all-court game, Roger, and he’s got to bring that to the table. He’s got to serve and volley 30 per cent of the time on his first serve; he’s got to do a lot of little slice backhands; he’s got to keep changing up what he does.”

    LLEYTON HEWITT: “The match-up certainly suits Rafa slightly more but how is he going to bounce back from that (five-hour semi-final)? It was so taxing and gruelling on his body. Roger’s going to have to throw in the serve-volley attacking tennis but the court and the balls this year playing slightly quicker certainly plays into Roger’s hands.”

    PAT RAFTER: “Probably Rafa, but I don’t know how much last night has taken out of him and I have to imagine a lot. And I don’t know how Federer is either. It all depends on how these guys pull up. They could be just shattered. Roger’s got to be sore. I really don’t know how they’re going to be and how they’re going to feel. Sometimes having a two-day break is not great either. You’re sort of losing momentum. I’d like to see Federer change a few things up in his game if he wants to beat Rafa; be slightly more aggressive, come into the net a bit more.”

    PAT CASH: “Everything points to Roger. A fast hardcourt, night time is perfect for Federer. Lower-bouncing balls this year is perfect for Federer. He’s fresh, perfectly made for Federer. The only thing is Rafa’s got him in the head. That’s the only question mark.”

    MARK PHILIPPOUSSIS: “Honestly, it’s like a coin toss. I’m going to take 52 per cent Roger and 48 Nadal maybe just if I had to pick someone. If anyone could have beaten Federer when he was on a roll, it was Nadal. But I just feel like with the faster conditions of the courts, Federer will be looking to take advantage of that and getting in whenever possible and taking advantage of that net play.”

    DARREN CAHILL: “Both guys are living the dream. I don’t think either in their heart of hearts thought they’d get back to a men’s final and certainly not to be playing each other. Head to head, you have to lean towards Rafa but then, with the break, you have to lean towards Roger. There are so many variables. If I had to go one over the other, I’d go slightly Rafa but it wouldn’t surprise me to see Roger come out on top. He’s adding to his legacy in the game and, if he does beat Rafa, I’m not sure there would be too many single performances that would rate higher.”

    • Not all predictions are correct but may happen. i am not expert but i feel Rafa keeps too much court open (just observation) and he did not play Roger after he changed racket so who knows but I would like Rafa to win.

  9. Sanju, you eh like to talk do you? Haha
    Nice predictions!
    I remember watching wimbledon finals in 06/7/8 during our holidays in Greece. Those were the times tennis flourished. Best holidays of my life.
    To think this match is going to happen already makes me happy beyond belief.

    I’ve always been an immense Federer fan, and I still believe he can win an 18th. However, my mind contradicts my heart and says Rafa. Dimitrov is a very similar player to Roger (except serving and volleying less). Federer’s net game is the one thing that can help him, but against wawrinka, I wasn’t feeling those great volleys. On the other hand, Nadal’s game plan worked fine against dimitrov and his spirit is burning bright (that 5th set proved it)

    Still, I don’t want to write Federer off yet. My saying about him: everything rises, and falls, with his serve. As always, I’m gonna say: his serve precentages will determine the match. Good stats will mean tie breaks or even a break, and a good state of mind. Not so good stats will confirm earlier predictions of Nadal in 4.

    So: Federer’s serve will determine the outcome of this match.

    • Agree Fed’s serve will be crucial – but equally important Nadal will need to keep up the high quality of his serve to be in the match in my opinion. Nadal seems to have faced an awful lot of break points this tournament even though his serve has been going very well.

      The reason Nadal got through yesterday was force of will and the fact that Dimitrov, though a pleasure to watch, makes poor decisions at crucial moments in rallies. Federer doesn’t do that for certain, he is the supreme tactician. Dimitrov went toe to toe with Nadal from the back of the court but he had many chances to finish off rallies earlier and out-position Nadal. Inexperience cost him, that won’t be a factor for Federer – but he needs to play at his best!

  10. Currently top 10 ranking tennis players did not go to AO final. Do not belive at all. All fixed for Federer and Nadal to finish. Watch them in new tournament where they will finish, especially on next Grand slam.

    • lol, you think Rafa’s in trouble at Roland Garros? And you honestly believe that Murray AND Djokovic took dives to let Rafa and Roger play the final?!?!? Exactly WHAT would you offer those guys to do that?

      Conspiracy theorists are everywhere but that one takes the bronze booby prize.

  11. It’s 50-50 for various reasons.

    Federer is fresh, has not lost to Nadal for a long time so will not be in the negative frame of mind he used to have against him. The worrying thing is the way he lost the 2 sets to Wawrinka – he has to win in 3 or 4 sets against Nadal, he can’t afford to let up at all. I think Fed will be in charge early on and win the first set, it’s a question of how his mentality goes from there and how well he serves in the following sets.

    Nadal has had a hugely draining match against Dimitrov and I think he’ll have a slow start in the final – second set will be pivotal. He also just scraped through 2 matches by the force of will. Dimitrov was a pleasure to watch and had he hit one good shot with 2 break points in the 5th set yesterday Nadal would have been out. But it is astonishing what he is capable of at crucial moments so if it goes to five sets Nadal will more than likely win.

    Federer in 4, or Nadal in 5.

    • Ben Lloyd,

      Slams are won on sheer force of will. You make it sound like nothing. That is the great intangible with Rafa. You can dissect the x’s snd o’s sll you want, but slams sometimes are decided by intangibles.

      Rafa’s match with Dimi did not come down to one shot! That is really oversimplifying it. Should have, would have, could have. But Rafa actually got the job done. That is what counts.

      • All I said is what has happened in this tournament, and considering neither has won a slam for ages it’s fair to go on that. Dimitrov was written off by most Nadal fans but there was nothing in it and it did come down to one or two shots, though that doesn’t mean Rafa didn’t deserve his win.

        Slams aren’t won just on sheer force of will, but it certainly helps and I already said that would be a factor in favour of Nadal. It got him through two matches against good players so far. But other factors are in Fed’s favour – let’s see, I think the longer the match goes no doubt Rafa will become the favourite but I also think Fed has a chance to win it in 4 or possibly straight sets.

  12. It’s gonna be close. Both players are past their peak – Nadal forehand doesn’t contain the threat it used to and he doesn’t hit the winners that much….his game is even more focused now on minimum number of errors. Federer needs to play with that in mind, but is he up to it physically? It’s got to be done quickly if he is to win.

    • Nadals FH is better than what we saw all of 15 and 16. Its ofcourse yet not what we saw 08-13 🙂

      What is disturbing about Rafa is why he does not pull the trigger to go DTL on FH quick in a rally. Yesterday against Dimi..the CC FH to Dimis BH was tried for way too long and Dimi responded with BH DTL winner many times.

      • Sanju..i think rafa not confident enough to use his DTL FH..he tried to use it but it sprayed all over the place multiple times…as we all can see,he’s so nervous in 2nd,3rd and 4th he choose to play passively..don’t want to take any chances..and Dimi did a very good job by absorbed every bullets that rafa has thrown at him..i think if he dared a little bit and play not too passively…he can close out the match earlier…But…yeah..

        • He is in the final..he has used it in earlier matches here..he just did not use it enough yesterday..the few times he did, he won nearly every point.

          • But you are right..he may have tried and it he stopped using it..I only saw the 5th set live..never saw the earlier not sure what transpired..onky saw highlights later on youtube and felt FH DTL was sparingly used.

            • It’s understandable that Rafa was nervous – don’t forget it’s the first time he had come so far to be in the SF of a slam in two years, of course he’s nervous, he made so many FH errors in the fifth set that’s unbelievable!

              I do believe after what he had gone through this year at the AO, his confidence and belief in his game will improve. Hopefully he can win this AO, and moves ahead of Sampras.

        • It looks like a nice article but I got a malicious attack ahead warning from my virus protection (Webroot) while reading it.

        • Mira Andi,

          Now that I had a good night’s sleep I just read that article you posted. Another great read! Beautifully written!

          I now have to be ready to do it one more time in the wee hours of the morning. I am going to sleep earlier so that I can get a few hours sleep before the final.

          • Yay!…Nny is back!I will wait for u and amy and other rafans to cheer together for rafa this afternoon!….WOOOOOHOOOOO!!
            BRING IT ON RAFA!!!!

  13. I’m not sure regarding this one!
    Form wise, game wise both are almost at same level.

    Just because of the H2H & matchup advantage, I think Rafa will eke this one out.
    Only way for Roger to win this one would be to arrive on the court tomorrow with the same level of play that he displayed against Berdych. That day he was really zoned in.
    If he can have a similar zoned in day tomorrow, he has a very good chance to win this one. Else, we all know the similar script.
    Rafa in 4!

    • Mira Andi,

      I am here! I am feeling much better after getting some sleep! I have to be ready for the final!

      Yesterday I just watched Rafa’s match over and over. It was a wonderful experience.

      I am relaxed now and not nervous. I will probably get nervous as the final gets closer, I am just do happy to see Rafa in a slam final again. I really want him to win the double career slam. He has another chance. This is the one I want hit him. I hope he has enough left to get it done.

      • Nny!!…Miss u lots!!He he…Oh My God!It was an amazing match isn’t it?But,in a way i’m glad u didn’t watch it live’s pure h@#$ almost the entire match!But,that is what makes it so special Nny..the rollercoaster of mixed emotion that we’ve been riding the entire match!And in the end to see rafa dropped to the floor,crying!!Oh my God!!That was the most amazing feeling in the world Nny!!…I cried like a kid myself!!He he…Oh this can help soothe your worries Nny?

  14. Wish Roger doing the same like Serene to hit new GS champion records in men tennis. That would put someone in men tennis equal to Jack nicklaus though it is from different sport.

    He can do this if he hits above 70% first serve like he did to Murray in Wimbledon semi. However when he plays Rafa, normally he hits below 50% first serve.

    Rafa in 3, the most would be in 4 sets.

    • If you look at Nadal ,he diffused the serve weapon of all top players so far here. Dmitrov serve is more quicker than Federer’s. Dmitrov is young and he ran all the court in the last match non stop. This is where difference comes in place. Serve and volley is dangerous against Nadal, he returns so well. So Federer is left with only choice to fight at the back of the court. Recent inauguration at Nadal’s foundation and Federer’s visit there are all business related outside tennis. They are just rivals using advertisements to improvise their own business. Nadal needs this Grandslam and coming french very badly. We have Djokovic,Zverev and Murray ready to win other grandslams. Federer was lucky not to face Murray here. Nadal will continue his attacking style and will not give free points to Federer like he did to dmitrov.

        • Agree..His serve slowed down by 15-20 compared to 2009..Federer is waiting for moment to grab a grandslam by lucky draws,mentally fragile players and Djoker’s loss of form..He is not expecting Nadal to be here..

          • And Federer fought off the toughest opponent in Wawrinka so there’s no reason why he wouldn’t have beaten Murray. Everyone’s caught up in the fact he’s had a break from the game since last summer, but if anything that has mentally put him in a very good and strong place.

      • You say Fed was lucky not to face Murray, well Rafa was lucky not to face Djoko and he has been close to going out on two occasions, once to Dimitrov who is not a particularly mentally tough player.

        Fed won’t win from the back of the court I agree, but judging by the tournament so far Nadal is going to offer more break points than Fed. Like Djoko, Nadal is incredibly good at saving those but you can’t be considered a clear favourite if you’re always digging yourself out of trouble like that. That’s one reason why a lot of people fancy Federer to win this time.

  15. Fedal matches have been highly anticipated since their early years. Sometimes one of them doesn’t show up with something close to their best for, various reasons. Let’s hope both do show up with a high level and unhampered… that would wonderful to see… one more super Fedal final at a slam.

    As to my pick I posted it earlier: who knows? but I have Rafa in 4.

  16. Who cares for past champions predictions..they were rating better for Federer in all of the 34 past matches played :))..

  17. Good night all. Good luck for watching Final and Hope you all give me good news of Rafa’s win when I get up.

  18. Dimitrov played waybetter than how Federer played against Rafa in 2009 AUS open semifinal..Though Rafa lost d final to Stan….So I think it is advantage Rafa for sure in four sets….D factors such as fatigue (for playing gruelling match against Dimitrov), 1day less rest, fast hardcourt) are baseless when Rafa plays Federer….But those factors do come in play playing with Stan or Djokovic….If one asked whom he would have preferred in d final between Stan & Fed…He would certainly say Federer…..It is certainly 70- 30 in favour of Rafa….D only outside chance Federer has is if he wins D 1st set.

  19. All those experts who are saying that Federer needs to serve and volley, come to D net more often have all been tried in d past by Fed but with no success..Coz Rafa has terrific returns when someone closes on net…..D only new thing that Fed can try is BH slice to counter Rafa’s FH.

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