Nadal Downs Federer Down Under

by John on February 2, 2009

“Rafael Nadal: A Man for All Surfaces.” So said ESPN commentator Dick Enberg after Nadal defeated Roger Federer in another five-set Grand Slam final, keeping Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major titles intact for now. Nadal became the first Spaniard to win the Australian Open, defeating Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2 in a riveting, 4-hour, 22-minute final that ended just after midnight this morning. The title was Nadal’s sixth Grand Slam championship and first on a hard-court surface. The Spaniard has won the last four French Opens and dethroned the Swiss Maestro at Wimbledon last July. Federer, stifled in his attempt to tie Sampras’ record, broke down at the trophy presentation. “Maybe I’ll try later. God, it’s killing me,” he said with tears in his eyes. Federer returned shortly to congratulate his rival. “You deserved it. You played a fantastic final,” he said. Nadal had survived a 5-hour, 14-minute marathon against fellow countryman Fernando Verdasco in his semifinal on Friday night, and there certainly was some question about how much gas he had left in the tank. Federer had advanced to the final with a routine, straight-sets win over Andy Roddick the night before. Let there be no doubt, though, Nadal had plenty left as he bested his long-time rival for the fifth straight time and improved to 5-2 in Grand Slam finals between the two. Nadal now holds a 13-6 advantage in career meetings. After collecting the trophy from Rod Laver, on the court named after the Aussie great, Nadal put his arm around Federer. “To receive this trophy from Rod Laver is a dream for me,” the Spaniard said. “It was an amazing two weeks for me.” Nadal wrested the No. 1-ranking from Federer last August and after yesterday’s convincing performance doesn’t seem likely to relinquish the top spot any time soon. Federer’s reign lasted an incredible 237 straight weeks. The two rivals have won 17 of the last 19 Grand Slam finals. What’s becoming more and more aparrent is that Nadal is getting into Federer’s head. “He can’t beat Nadal in a big match,” said U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe. Call it emotional fragility or concrete elbow, Federer can’t seem to execute at the crucial moments against Rafa. After playing brilliantly to take the fourth set, Federer basically gave the fifth set away. With Nadal now capable of winning on any surface, No. 14 is going to be much more difficult for the Swiss Maestro to reach.

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