Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer Sunday in the men's final of the 2009 Australian. The match was a tense, back-and-forth marathon five-setter that was definitely worthy of what's becoming a legendary series and rivalry between the world's top two tennis players. Nadal pulled out a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2 victory for his sixth grand slam title, keeping Federer from winning a record-tying 14th grand slam. At only 22 years-old, Nadal is ahead of the benchmarks set by Pete Sampras and Roger Federer in terms of majors won by the age of 22.
The quality of tennis throughout the first four sets was incredibly high, with Nadal showing no symptoms of fatigue that many feared he would have as a result of his marathon five set match twenty-four hours earlier against Fernando Verdasco in the Australian Open's longest match in history. The first four sets had many momentum changes, as Federer broke Nadal first in the opening set, only to have Nadal break his serve right back and then again late in the set. Both players made unbelievable shots throughout, with Federer playing loose and carefree in the opening sets to provide an aggressive counter to Nadal's fierce, relentless game. Nadal is the hardest working player in the game, and his effort on the court makes me tired just thinking about it. He ran down what I thought were clean Federer winners so many times that I found myself becoming surprised whenver the ball bounced twice on Nadal's side of the court.
Despite the high quality of tennis on display, it was Federer's game that showed tinges of weaknesses throughout the match. Federer's first serve was not the consistent weapon that it had shown to be against Andy Roddick, and Nadal was able to attack Federer's second serve and control those points on numerous occasions. Federer also had to fight through consistency issues with his usually trusty forehand, a problem that reared its ugly head in the opening set and continued to cause sporadic errors during the near five hour match. These two weaknesses came together in the final set, as Federer seemed to lack his normal closing confidence and let the final set slip between his fingers with unforced errors and two games where he had his serve broken.
Overall, the match was a classic, but ranks below their 2008 Wimbledon final (I still contest that was the greatest tennis match of all time). However, I found myself screaming 'Wow!' and 'No way' throughout this morning's match with all of the unbelievable shot making in tense moments. This was definitely the match of the tournament, and made the women's final look like a high-school match (Nadal and Federer's first set was just a hair under the total duration of the entire women's final between Serena Williams and an uninspired Dinara Safina).
I'm hoping the Australian Open is a sign of more to come from the men's game. Anchored by Nadal and Federer rivalry, and followed by stand-ins Djokovic, Roddick, Murray, Verdasco, Monfils, and Tsonga, the 2009 men's season should be a thrilling one.