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Rafael Nadal claims Australian Open crown


 

Originally published on: 26/02/10 15:24

Six months on from their last encounter, which ended in the twilight of south-west London, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal produced another five-set epic that will live long in the memory. After 4 hours and 23 minutes, Nadal once again broke Federer’s heart and became the first Spanish man in history got his hands on the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, winning 7-5 3-6 7-6 3-6 6-2.

Even after Nadal’s mammoth semi-final contest against Fernando Verdasco, there was a sense that this match could exceed expectations and, with possibly the exception of the fifth set, it did not disappoint.

With Rod Laver behind him on the rostrum, an emotional Roger Federer was reduced to tears as he collected the plate…

Perhaps the fact that both players lost their first service games demonstrated that each knew what was at stake. Their reactions at the finish suggested that was certainly the case. Im not sure if there are any statistics about how many Grand Slam runners-up have failed to make their speech after receiving the plate, nor indeed how many just scraped it on the second attempt. But, with Rod Laver stood behind him on the rostrum, an emotional Roger Federer was reduced to tears as he collected his trophy. At this first attempt, the world No.2 had not managed to make it 14 Slams.

The stats show just how close the match was. Incredibly, Roger won 174 points, while Rafa had 173 – but the Spaniard took his at the times that made a difference. Roger hit 71 winners compared to Rafas 50, and served 11 aces compared to Rafas four. But his 64 unforced errors (compared with the Spaniard’s 41) and 54% first serve percentage (Rafa served at 64%) proved to be fatal.

What the can’t show are the contrasts in their games, which is why their matchups are so enjoyable to watch Rafa’s leftie spin and ad court advantage plus physical and mental strength and grit, pitted against Rogers right-handed cerebral game and touch mixed with his own style of aggression.

Even by their own unrivalled standards, there were some amazing points as the two best men in tennis reminded us once again just how great a game this is. Rafael Nadal has shown that he now has an all court game; no longer is he merely the clay court slugger of old. Its easy to forget sometimes that hes still only 22 years of age, but as his t-shirts have sprouted sleeves and shorts have gotten a little shorter he has also proved at home on grass and on hard courts, he has changed so much. Some things, however, remain: his head to head record with Feds now extends to 13-6.

Thats the mark of a true sportsman – to maintain that sensitivity even when you want to let rip and celebrate…

The tournament has a reputation for throwing up unlikely challengers and sometimes winners. Today, however, it was the world No.1 that walked off with the trophy. Perhaps Nadal’s victory was helped by his extended off-season, bought on by tendinitis in his right knee at the end of 2008. He was absent from the triumphant Spanish Davis Cup squad in the final against Argentina, and didnt make it to Shanghai either. But one thing is beyond doubt – today he came back from the longest match in Australian Open history to play better than his esteemed opponent to bag the title and write a new chapter in Melbourne Park history.

Rafael Nadal has added the Australian Open title to his growing list of prizes. And yet, however delighted he may have been, he was extremely sensitive to Federers emotional distress on the podium. In my mind thats the mark of a true sportsman – to maintain that sensitivity even when you want to let rip and celebrate. A true Aussie Champion has been crowned. A fantastic fortnight came to a fitting end.

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