The men’s Australian Open Final was a thing of beauty; contrasting styles evoking a sense of timelessness from the two legends. Rafa, with his physicality and his hefty left-handed topspin forehand has always been Federer’s bane – especially on clay, where the ball bounces up high to the Swiss Maestro’s single-handed backhand and usually draws the error.
Although the final in Melbourne went to five sets, it was clear that the 18-time Major winner was dealing with the onslaught of spin, to which he took the ball on early with varying success. In the midst of this epic match between Federer and Nadal – their 35th career meeting – it occured to me: could Fedal dominate men’s tennis once again?
Now this might seem silly; farfetched and ridiculous. Djokovic and Murray will clearly bounce back from their respective slumps, but, with Federer and Nadal’s run to the final being so incredible, can you really write off either one from hoisting another Slam trophy, especially at courts which perfectly suit their respective games?
Some might, of course, see the final in Melbourne as a fluke with the exit of the top two seeds so early, but there is something about the final which remains so prominent in my mind; something that evokes a sense of nostalgia and perhaps of hope; hope that these two tennis titans can survive – and thrive – against younger competition.
There is no doubt in my mind that Nadal and Federer can hoist the title at their respective hunting grounds – Roland Garros for the Spaniard, and Wimbledon for the Swiss, even with the returning forces of Djokovic and Murray.
Let’s take Roland Garros for example; Rafa’s gruelling, topspin heavy game, has always been suited for slow clay. Just look at his record there; he’s won a record 9 titles, and I expect him to increase that haul this year. The season of the red dirt is fast approaching, and, like always, Nadal remains a title contender, and although there are many contenders in the shape of Djokovic, Wawrinka, and even Murray, can one ever doubt the resurgent King of Clay?
After the Parisian slam, it’s time for a much faster surface which, in contrast, suit Federer’s attacking style of tennis; that of the legendary grass-courts of SW19; Wimbledon, where the Swiss’ has triumphed 7 times, and even made the Semi-Finals last year – to Milos Raonic – even with his recurring knee injury. It’s true that Murray and Djokovic can both turn on the flair to reach the latter stages of this event, but so can Federer, who produced a magical comeback last year in front of a packed Centre Court as his overcame Marin Cilic from a two-set deficit which evoked memories of his triumph at SW19 in his peak.
The now 18-time Slam champion wasn’t playing his best in Australia, but seemed to improve with every match; this is displayed in his five set wins over Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka, and even in his victory of Rafael Nadal. But surely, once accustomed to the rigorous routine of tour life, the Maestro can return to peak fitness and shake the rust off his game. Only Raonic, and Djokovic have prevented the Swiss from hoisting the title at SW19, but with the Canadian’s recent lack of form, and injuries, and Djokovic’s similiar lack of form and disinterest for the game, it leaves only Murray and Federer to be true title contenders, and Andy hasn’t triumphed over Roger on grass – the Swiss leads 2-0. The fast courts of Wimbledon offer a chance for Federer to dictate with his attacking game, and with the resurgent form that led him to the Australian Open title, I expect him to continue his title run at SW19.
The US Open is after Wimbledon, with the court speed being a mixture of the latter and Roland Garros, and even though the Swiss Maestro have triumphed here five times and made the final most recently in 2015, I sense this will be a more difficult battle. Djokovic may have a bad record at this slam – winning twice, and coming runner-up five times – but I expect him, or Murray, to steal the last Grand Slam of the year.
So, to answer my original question: “Can Federe & Nadal dominate at Slams again?” I say ‘yes’ – well, kind of. I don’t see them dominating as they once did in their respective peaks, and I certainly don’t see either of them winning each tournament they enter; both are older, and last week at Dubai, Federer was upset by Evgeny Donskoy after holding three match points; Rafa, on the other hand, lost convincingly to an inspired Sam Querry in two sets in Acapulco.
However, even with this in mind, I still sense that Federer and Nadal still have a few major triumphs to come; after all, they defied the odds and made the final in Australia. This ultimately proves that, despite age, that they will still remain a prominent threat at each Grand Slam tournament they enter.