Australian Open final preview and prediction: Nadal vs. Federer

They’re not done yet. And neither is the rivalry.

For the first time at the Australian Open since 2009 and for the first time overall since the 2011 French Open, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will be facing each other in a Grand Slam final when they collide on Sunday night at Melbourne Park.

Nadal leads the head-to-head series 23-11 and even owns a somewhat surprising 9-7 edge on hard courts. The Spaniard is 9-2 against Federer in all Grand Slam matches, including 3-0 at the Australian Open. Federer, whose two major wins over Nadal have come at Wimbledon (2006 and 2007), came out on top of their most recent encounter via a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 decision in the 2015 Basel final.

Federer-Nadal XXXV in a major final comes as borderline shock, and not just because both veterans trudged through all of last season without reaching a slam title match. In fact, saying that neither one even made it through all of last season would be more accurate. A wrist injury forced Nadal out of the French Open after two rounds, sidelined him from Wimbledon, and ended his 2016 campaign after two Asian-swing events. A knee issue prevented Federer from playing two of the four slams and he missed the final five months of the year after falling to Milos Raonic in the Wimbledon semifinals.

“That’s where both Rafa and myself said, ‘Okay, enough of this already,’ Federer said of their respective decisions to shut things down early in 2016. “‘Let’s get back to 100 percent, enjoy tennis again, enjoy the practice.’ Not just practice; treatment, practice, treatment, match, treatment. All the time all you’re doing is fighting the fire.”

To say a much-needed offseason has rejuvenated the all-time greats and refueled their fire would be a gross understatement.

Nadal warmed up for 2017 by winning the six-man Abu Dhabi event, taking out Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic, and David Goffin along the way. The world No. 9 lost to Raonic in Brisbane, but he avenged that setback with a 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-4 victory over the Canadian in the Aussie Open quarterfinals. In addition to that result, Nadal has advanced by beating Florian Mayer, Marcos Baghdatis, Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils, and Grigor Dimitrov. The 14-time major champion has twice required five sets–first against Zverev and then in an epic 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4 struggle with Dimitrov that lasted four hours and 56 minutes on Friday.

Federer has an extra day of rest, as he survived a five-setter of his own against Swiss countryman Stan Wawrinka on Thursday. The 35-year-old preceded that victory with defeats of Jurgen Melzer, Noah Rubin, Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, and Mischa Zverev.

“It’s going to be special,” Federer assured. “It’s the epic battle with Rafa…. I just think he’s an incredible tennis player. He’s got shots that no other one has. When you have that, you are unique and special. Plus he’s got the grit. He’s got the mental and physical ability to sustain a super-high level of play for years and for hours and for weeks. He’s proven that time and time again.”

“(It) is special play with Roger again in a final of a Grand Slam,” Nadal added. “I cannot lie. (It) is great; exciting for me and for both of us that we (are) still there and we (are) still fighting for important events.”

Exciting for them and for everyone else in the tennis world.

“Everyone is going to see that final now,” Dimitrov said during his post-match press conference after losing to Nadal. “Including me. I’m going to watch it for sure. It’s super amazing. It’s great for the sport.”

It should be a great match, too. Nadal has been dominant in the head-to-head series, but the playing field could be evened out by Federer’s extra day of rest, Nadal’s grueling semifinal, and because conditions in Melbourne are slightly faster than usual. That being said, Nadal has proven that–when healthy, as he is now–he can bounce back in style from energy-sapping efforts. He will likely do just that again, and therefore be able to execute his unwavering game-plan against Federer: pound away at the one-handed backhand with spin serves out wide to the ad court and with heavy topspin forehands.

Pick: Nadal in 4

51 Comments on Australian Open final preview and prediction: Nadal vs. Federer

  1. I agree that they should make it so that both finalists have the same amount of time. I’d be interested to here the AO’s reasoning for it, just for the sake of argument. At some point in any slam tournament, they have to give one side of the draw less time than the other one in order to have both draw halves play on the same day. I really don’t know what the rational is behind doing it with the final round, though. Do the other 3 do it with the semifinals?

  2. Nny…hey r u alright?Don’t be so sad okay?It was not meant to be..No matter how hard we’re find a reason..we can’t find it…We just can hope that rafa maybe will have another chance in the future…okay?

    • Mira Andi,

      I am glad that you are here! I am struggling to deal with this. It’s hard to see Rafa come so close and then let it get away from him. I have my ups and downs today.

      But you are my sunshine! You always see the bright side of things! You make it easier to bear. I hope that good things are in store for Rafa this year! The

      Thanks for being there!

      • Yeah I am too. Being a fan can be such a roller coaster of a ride.The emotional investment in Rafa is so much. His victories and triumphs feel like our own triumphs. His defeats gnaw like our own defeats.
        Again sport shows that nothing is impossible. If Roger can comeback the way he did,I am hoping that Rafa can right the ship and have success, even at Wimbledon. As Roger showed,one small change in the right direction could do wonders to your confidence and change the dynamic of the game. He came back to do something which he had never done, beat Rafa in non grass grand slam.Why cant Rafa make the finals of wimbledon once again, something which he has done as recently as 2011! It may seem far-fetched at the moment, but you never know-one small tweak here and there and he could be a completely different player.

        • I certainly hope so. I hope Rafa learns from this loss, I do feel it’s his serve that let him down during pressurized moments. Also, he wasn’t doing much to adapt to Fed’s serve by varying his ROS positions. He mentioned that his shoulder wasn’t feeling right hence couldn’t get the depth of his FH the way he would want but if that’s the case, why still play from so far behind the baseline? His legs were tired no doubt but why not move closer to the baseline and cut off some angles against Fed, rather then continuing to run along the baseline but from further behind it?

          I think all these can be rectified going forward, provided he makes a conscious effort to do so. If he’s not going to win the AO again then so be it; just concentrate on winning those that he may have a better chance of winning – FO and perhaps the USO?

          His is still a glorious career, double career slam or not, I feel he should be able to win some more slam(s) and be remembered as an ATG and the clay ‘Goat’.

  3. I know it’s hard to see rafa let things get away just like that..we can feel that everything was in his hands but maybe maybe he’s awestruck by roger’s gameplan who attacked him relentlessly..not back down one bit!!No!..He kept pressing rafa every single minute the entire match!!I can’t believe it Nny!!…That is not Roger that we used to see when faced against rafa…And rafa as we all know,still not free from his’s still there somewhere…so,i think combined with faster court and quick ball,made rafa doubt himself..and we can see from every pore of his body that he’s got no idea what to do with this new Roger…I know,he and his team already discussed all the possibilities and rog gameplan but like i said this is the first rafa has to deal with this ‘new Roger and his determination to get an 18th’…a roger that suddenly played out of this world tennis….I think we can’t blame rafa too much..he is a human being after all Nny…But i believe and deep down you’re also believe that our RAFA is back Nny!!!he’s already shown to us what he can do in Milos match…and that rafa will emerge again Nny…That’s i’m sure…So,don’t be too sad okay?

    • Mira Andi,

      You are right. That’s why I come here. Yo get support and words of wisdom from people like you. I think you are right about how it all went down. Rafa did fight and push it to a fifth set. He gave it his all. He will get even better.

  4. Nny…besides before the tournament rafa already warned us that we can’t judge him based on his result thi slast couple of months..he asked us to give a verdict at least after Miami…and who knows with Carlos by his side,things will get better and better…it’s already showed a very very positive result this last month,right?It’s not easy to change what you have in your blood Nny..and rafa and his style of play already with him for what?12,13 years..and it will takes time…so,we have to be patient with him okay?Support him while we could..if we have to cry..then cried away..that’s okay..This is life…we,like rafa have to adapt to his situation..that’s our job as a fan..okay Nny?..LOVE U…Don’t be sad okay?

    • Mira Andi,

      I have been sad today. But you have a way with words that makes me see things in a better light. It is true that I never expected Rafa to get to the final. He just didn’t have enough to get over the finish line. This time! But he had a great run and it will help him going forward. He showed that he’s still got it. I enjoyed watching him play so well and like his old self. But there is more work to be done and Moya will help Rafa get there.

      I forgot about Rafa asking not to be judged until after Miami. That’s only fair. He needs more time.

      You give me faith and hope and I am so grateful that you are here.

      I am smiling now!

      • Nny!!!That’s my girl!!I love u mucho for that..That’s the spirit!..It’s not the end of the world..there’s so much for rafa to play still Nny…add masters to equal or pass Novak’s or 10th FO or another USO[remember,if rafa is healthy..this also a very much possibilty okay?]…So,let’s forget about this loss and bear in our mind that we’re going to see rafa play again in a couple of weeks,month and guess what??…CLAY!!!!…We just have to pray that he’s going to be haelthy and can give his all for Roland Garros..okay Nny??..I don’t want u to be sad and unhappy..i love u too much and it will saddened me if u’re still can’t get out of this loss… wider!…YES!That’s it!!

        • Nny…I am so sorry i can’t be here with u sooner..i guess our time difference is terrible..before i went to sleep last nite..i peeked multiple times here,just in case you’re here and i want to be by your side but i guess you’re asleep since u have to stay awake most of the nite…But,that’s okay..i’m here now..and if u want to talk to me…just summon me okay and i will fly to your side in a second!!he he..

          • Mira Andi,

            You are going to make me cry! You are just so sweet! I go take Rafa’s losses hard. I want the best for him. He has struggled so much with injuries and confidence and doubts. But I have to be grateful that we still get to see him play. I posted about how great it was to see him with that will to win and that fighting spirit. He has the desire and the passion, now I hope it will turn into titles.

            The young guys are making themselves heard and competition is getting tougher. It won’t be easy and opportunities don’t come along as much. But as long as Rafa wants to play, then I will be here supporting him all the way!

            You are very special! Thanks for caring and helping to cheer me up!


            • Nny!!I told u that i love u and will do anything in my power to make u happy…It was nothing,really…to me,to see u happy and in high spirit again is worth it more than a thousand diamonds…That’s what friends r for right?…Btw,for now don’t worry about a thing okay?rafa is in right path..he just have to play more and get in the groove and stay healthy…we know that rafa is the kind of player that needs a match under his belt more before he can settled down…and from what we have seen,he is injury free atm..not playing with pain[a little maybe,but that’s it]..and that’s a good news..i believe if nothing happen to him for 5,6 months…everything will come naturally for him…be patient okay?And hope for the best for him..that’s all we can do…Love u..

  5. This was maybe Roger’s greatest win. Being able to come down from a break in the 5th against his nemesis shows, just maybe, that he has conquered the mental issues that have always been his main obstacle. Think about what this means, at 35. I said two days ago that everyone was over-rating the Nadal FH to Fed BH, and that indeed turned out to be the case. The real question for me is: how many slams would Fed have won had he switched racquets in 2009 instead of 2014? Even with Novak playing out of this world tennis for much of the last two years, Fed has been able to beat him consistently everywhere but the slams, and even there it has been mostly mental on Fed’s part. And Nole is 6 years younger, a very large gap in men’s tennis. I don’t know how much longer Fed can continue to play like this, but the match is clearly on his racquet regardless of who he plays. Great match on both players’ parts, and congrats to Rafa for coming back to this level; I never expected it.

    • Nah with few exceptions Fed has always handled Rafa on a fast hard court because rafa’s spin does not get so high on Feds BH.

      Fed played fantastic on his favourite surface when playing against Rafa but nothing new.

      • @Hawk: First, Fed has never come from behind like that against Rafa in a GS. That’s a mental block (in the past) and a break-through (yesterday). Second, the court was fast but not that fast; nothing like indoors like WTF where Rafa has never managed to win. I don’t think Rafa could have gotten this far in the AO at this stage in his career if the court had been super fast. And yes, this was the first time that Roger fully committed to an all out attack against Rafa in a big match and didn’t lose his nerve even when he was down. In the 2011 RG final, he stormed out to a 3-0 lead, playing (and, of course, executing) first strike tennis even on Nadal’s favourite (and the slowest) surface. However, he played a dumb drop-shot that failed, lost his nerve, and Rafa ran over him. However, this type of tennis can work even on clay. Take the ball early enough and heavy top spin is neutralized; you just have to have genius timing and instinct. It will be interesting to see how Roger does in the upcoming clay court season.

        • Nah, on clay he couldnt do that, slow surfaces dont reward net rushing, if not clay court tennis wont be won by mostly baseliners.

        • Well joe I disagree. Rafa is actually an excellent player on fast court especially in best of five. That’s why he has the advantage over Nole on a historically faster USO hard court whereas Nole excels comparably in Australia’s slower conditions.

          This AO was faster than either of those and rafa’s best weapon against fed is diminished.

          Couple that with the observation that rafa’s FH to Feds BH lacked its traditional depth, this was not a big upset or surprise.

          Rafa let it go in the end having a poor service game that led to losing the last five games surrendering the title to Fed.

          Again fed played at an incredible level right up there with some of the best tennis I’ve ever seen him play especially considering his opponent.

          Yes he had some factors in his favour but credit to him for getting it done at 35.

          Huge props.

          • Rafa may have been a great player on fast courts in 2010-13, but not for many years now, which is why he has bombed out early in many slams and hasn’t beaten Nole for a long time. Personally, I think Nadal, though much improved from a year ago, is still well below his prime. His forehand is not the weapon it was (too many unforced errors the other day), and he has (understandably) lost at least half a step. I think his best chance going forward is to keep playing closer to the baseline, and look for opportunities to come into net. His volleying is so good I’ve always been surprised that he doesn’t do it more. And, with an improved serve (maybe the best it’s ever been; he his an amazing pct. of first serves the other day and really stymied Fed with the body serve for much of the 4th and 5th sets), I think he has a real chance to win RG. All assuming he stays healthy, of course.

            • Rafa has come a long way since anxiety and injury affected his forehand along with the rest of his game bottoming out mid 2014 onwards.

              So it wasn’t just Nole but he was losing to just about anyone on any given day. But he is coming back.

              He does better against Nole (as does Fed and Murray) on faster courts.

              Rafa made the final and was up a break in the decider on a pretty fast hard court against the best fast court player of all time so he’s come a long way since last two years and will get better barring further injuries.

        • It’s no coincidence that Fed committed to an all out attack given the court speed and ligh ball but not so different than how he plays him in fast indoor conditions.

          Given the closeness of this match, had it been its traditional speed, where Rafa was 3-0, I think he would have stayed undefeated vs Fed but it’s a moot point.

          That isn’t going to work on clay unless it’s blue clay in high altitude with a light ball lol but I digress.

          • Maybe that is true based on their history, but I don’t think the match stats support it. It’s pretty clear that when Fed was playing near his best, Rafa had no answer. When Fed’s level dropped, it was close. My reading of those times is that’s it’s largely mental on Roger’s part. Nadal is just mentally stronger (probably the strongest player in the game, along with Novak), but traditionally he has had a special advantage in that regard over Fed. I think that’s what Roger was talking about when he said maybe some of those early clay beatings affected his style on other surfaces. Anyway, it will be very interesting to see their next match (I hope it comes soon!) to see if that dynamic has changed at all.

            • Well I think the relative confidence and respective effectiveness of how their games match up have mostly to do with the speed of the court and balls

              If Rafa was mentally strong as he used to be, many of those CCFH to Feds BH wouldn’t have been hit so short and for me that was the key difference not shown in any match stat along with the lower bounce on a faster than normal court.

              Federer was sublime when it counted yesterday. Rafa was in moments but wasn’t in the end.

              A player of rafa’s calibre has to own part of the blame for losing the last five games of the match surrendering his serve twice in a row in the process. He opened the door slightly and federer with surgeon like precision, exploded through it for the win.

              Tough for me to watch Rafa lose it but I enjoyed Federer’s genuine happiness.

  6. This final probably is last or second last finals. His speed speaks it all. He is ageing and everyone does. The young ones will win this year or next year onward.

  7. Dear All,

    I know this loss hurts especially as double career slam was on the line and this is 3rd AO that Rafa has lost.

    However let us not give up hope. Rafa lost a similar close match against Novak in 2012 final and we thought he would be crushed losing 3 finals in a row to Novak and 7 straight times but he overturned it and beat him in RG and 6 of next 7 times.

    If it was just Toni in his team I would not have had much hope but I believe Carlos Moya will make a difference . He will make Rafa play more aggressive. Rafa has played a different Novak under Becker and now is prepared for a different Roger. He was also in a GS final after 2.5 years so there is a lot of getting used to that is required. Please don’t underestimate the effect of the gruelling semi on this match , Rafa was bound to be tired and not be full strength.

    Rafa will be back in top 4 very soon and hopefully win a slam or two more too. I am not counting him out of any slam .

    • YES!!!That’s the right attitude sanju!…There’s more other than double career slam for rafa and for us…i believe if he win even a masters in the coming months,we fans will be very happy about that and will forget about this heartbreaking loss…So,KEEP CALM AND LOVE RAFA FOREVER!!C’MON!!

        • He he..yeah sanju..definitely but for starters a masters and ATP 500 1 or 2 will do rafa’s confidence and self belief really good heading to thinks..I can’t wait to see what’s more rafa will give us in the next 4,5 months…VAMOS RAFA!!

    • Sanju (AT 3:26 AM),

      U.Toni hopes too, otherwise he wouldn’t have asked C.Moya to join the Rafa team. 🙂
      According to C.Moya’s contract, he’ll travel with Rafa 12 -15 weeks per year and practice with Rafa always when the latter is in Mallorca.

    • I’m not sure about this Rafa’s crazy site Joe Smith..but Rafa fans,Fedfans,Andy fans and Novak fans are everywhere…Wherever we go..they’re all very passionate…It just happens that Rafa fans are outnumbered any other fan bases here but one thing i do know is that…ALL rafa fans here are AWESOME!They’re argued,traded comments back and forth but in friendly ways..They’re not vicious and hostile and insulted other players or fans and they’re respect other posters very much and i’m very lucky to be one of them even for just a short of time…So,THANK U SO MUCH GUYS!!

    • There are numerous Federer worship/Nadal hate sites out there, do you post the same question when you are there?

    • Joe yes too much so. Makes the discussion less interesting. It’s the biggest knock on this site.

      Please stick around. This site needs more posters like yourself.

  8. Joe does make a valid observation, and so does Liz, i suppose it depends on the success of a player, just lately another site i wont mention was saturated by bullying Novak fans, now they have all but vanished, im a Rafa fan and there is alot here no doubt, but i think in general this is a site where posters are very welcoming to fans of all players, ive had my status as a Nadal fan questioned when i have defended other players, and been called a hater when i have called other players out on things, when ive felt its justified, so i guess you wont win either way ….

    • Alison Hodge (AT 1:00 PM),
      On this site, the Rafa page was saturated with bullying posts from a Djokofan & Fedlover for a long time.

  9. I’ve been over at Bleacher Report for the last few years, which has changed (for the worse) and won’t allow comments for the next month or so. I agree that the fans here are very respectful, esp. compared to that site, where a lot of posters trade personal insults. Also, the level of tennis analysis seems high here. But it does seem like a lot of people are personally invested to a high degree. I’m a tennis player and passionate fan of the game, with a decided preference for Fed because of his playing style. But I like all of the top players, even if I rarely find myself rooting for Rafa or Novak. My main criticism of Nadal, even though he is my favourite player as a person (I think he is genuinely humble and understands that at the end of the day, tennis is just a game that he is very privileged to play for a lot of money) is that on the court I think he abuses the time rules to suit him and his playing style. I think this is part of his fierce competitiveness that unfortunately goes over the line. On another site, a poster showed the time between points on Nadal’s serve for the AO final (he timed them). Incredibly, they went as high as 50 something seconds between points (the rule for GS is 20 sec; should be 25s like other events). However, the most damning stat was that Rafa actually speeds up -a lot- when he is ahead in the score (30-0, 40-0) and slows down when he is behind. Whether or not it is deliberate, he is effectively dictating the pace of play, which is a decided advantage and definitely against the rules. For all that, I think he is obviously an amazing competitor and champion. Tennis is definitely better with him at or near his best.

    • I think he’s more anxious when the score is close and it takes him more time to find calm.

      I don’t think it’s either intentional or gamesmanship.

      Yes he exceeds the allotted time more than most but many others including Djokovic and Murray also routinely exceed it.

      I think professional tennis is an entertainment business first and I think Rafa in the game warts and all at or near his best brings much more to the game than being picky on the time violations.

      Similarly, I think some favouritism is shown to Federer with respect to draws, scheduling and court speeds, etc. to maximize his results.

      Nothing wrong with either.

      So yeah I agree tennis is much better with Rafa in the game, a Rafa not hampered by anxiety so for the entertainment value of seeing him at his best or near best allow him those few extra seconds. They are not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.

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