The Wimbledon of 2012 was the last time Roger Federer won a Grand Slam. Since then he has been in 3 Grand Slam finals and each time he was overpowered by Novak Djokovic in his search for the much elusive #18. There were people who started questioning his abilities whether he still had the will power to carry on. Some may feel Roger himself doubted his own capabilities, afterall he wasn’t getting younger by the day. The last time Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal met in a Grand Slam Final was in the 2011 French Open Final which Nadal won in four sets. Those were days when Nadal more often than not overcame the Swiss maestro. After having a dismal 2016, fans of both greats wouldn’t have hoped for the rivalry to renew on the grandest stage by any stretch of imagination. Roger was seeded as low as 17th and Nadal a dismal 9th. However, fast forward two weeks and we had people reminiscing some of the great encounters they had witnessed between the two. A combination of 31 Grand Slam titles between the two and people were all set for another epic battle on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
For a Roger Federer fan, the first set gave me a romantic feeling. A romanticized feeling as one watched a legend glide his way through the set. Roger Federer was at his elegant best in that set. The first set was a like a breath of fresh air as Federer won 6-4. But the romantic feeling was blown away by Nadal in the second set as he showed what he was all about. Very soon, it was the same Roger Federer fan throwing curses at his mentally superior opponent. Federer was soon committing too many unforced errors, especially on the forehand. The unforced errors accumulated and Nadal was back in the contest winning the set 6-3.
The first service game in the third set proved to be very important in the tide of things in the match. Quite often, and especially in Fedal contests, winning the psychological battle is the more important matter in hand. Federer did so in the first service game of the third set. After being down in deuce, Federer somehow found it in himself to keep hold of his service and it was no looking back for him in that set. As a fan, I thought that was the match won there but Rafael Nadal was no ordinary human being. If someone were to examine his brain, he or she would find a mental fortress over there. He came back with much renewed boost, cranked up his ribs and showed stern determination. Soon at 6-2, he had three break points on a Federer serve and he converted the second one to set up a final set of epic proportions.
The fact that Roger was feeling the heat from Rafa was reflected in the medical timeout that he took possibly to reconfigure and rethink his strategies. But all the talk backfired and soon Rafa was one break point up in the first service of the final set. After losing a set and then losing the first service of the next set, one wonders what thoughts lurked in Roger Federer’s head then. He had lost his three previous Grand Slam finals, and lost all five of his encounters with this man in Grand Slam finals. But when one watched Federer extending Nadal’s next two service games all the way to deuce and kept his service hold easily, you know you are in for a treat. With the crowd urging him behind, Federer found the resolve to break Nadal back setting the tie deliciously at 3-3 in the final set. After winning 7 points in a row, Federer was faced with the possibility of yet another break but Nadal does perform when the chips are all down. If tennis was a sport of comebacks Rafael Nadal would be at its peak. However, Federer was not the one to buckle down tonight. He matched Nadal with an eye for an eye and he came back with two more break points in deuce and converted the second one with a bit of interference from Lady Luck. It was now all down to keeping one service hold.
The path to victory is always full of blocks and hurdles. One might have thought that all of them were over and it was time separating Mr. Federer from his destiny. These people were in for a shocker as Nadal won two decisive break points. Sitting on the edge of my seat with nearly all my fingernails finished, I thought to myself whether the popular proverb “So close yet so far” will have a reason to smile again. However a 19th ace and a beautiful forehand enabled Federer to save both break points and take the game to deuce. After three hours and 38 minutes of tennis, a double fault from Nadal provided a Championship point to his Swiss rival. You think it is all over and this is going to be it but Federer’s much unwanted love tryst with unforced error in recent years brings it back to deuce. And then there was Federer’s much wanted love story with aces, a love story which had made me fall in love with the game in the first place all those years back. A 20th ace and it was Championship point number 2. Another majestic forehand from Federer was enough for Federer to bring home his 18th Grand Slam, hawkeye only delaying matters as the heartbroken Nadal could only hope for hawkeye to bring some relief from despair.
As soon as the big screen in Rod Laver Arena showed “IN”, there were fist pumps at the crowd, a huge shout more in exultation and relief than in sheer ecstasy and a jump in joy. There were tears in eyes. The much elusive #18 was in the bag or was in his hand should I say? The man had been out of the tennis circuit for the past year. And what does he do on his return? He defeats 4 opponents seeded higher than him to win the year’s first Slam. I mentioned that if tennis was a game of comebacks Nadal would be at its peak. Have I been proved wrong? You would be its best judge.