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Golden pair serves up another timeless exhibition

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Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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Nadal bt. Federer 7-6, 6-3, 6-3

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Nadal through to third Aus Open final

Rafael Nadal defeats Roger Federer in straight sets 7-6 6-3 6-3 to progress through to the final of the Australian Open.

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Amid the ceaseless search for the meaning of the Federer-Nadal rivalry, at least this much can be said: Federer is one of the greatest players of all, and Nadal is the greatest player of Federer of all. Those are immutable.

Beyond that, amen to the advice of one of their most illustrious predecessors, Pete Sampras. "Let's just appreciate what we're watching, Let's not try to compare," he said. "It's not going to last forever. You have to sit back and enjoy it." Friday night, he (and millions of others) did.

Rafael Nadal's power was simply too much for Roger Federer.

Rafael Nadal's power was simply too much for Roger Federer. Photo: Wayne Taylor

This is an abbreviated form of Magnus Norman's counsel to Stan Wawrinka. No matter how grand is the tournament, or how high the stakes, or how lofty the quality of the field, or what rarified plane they reach, there is only ever one winner _ so cherish every moment of whatever progression you make. Evidently, it is working: Wawrinka awaits Nadal in Sunday's final.

Silently, Federer and Nadal compare; of course they do. The civility of their rivalry is matched only by its intensity. Time and tide has favoured Nadal, but on Friday night appeared at least to be at slack. Since they last met, things had changed.

Federer was fit, was playing a slightly remodelled game that appear suited to the Melbourne Park conditions. His journey through the tournament had been smooth. "I'm explosve out there," he had said. "I can get to balls. I'm not afraid to go for balls."

Rafael Nadal shouts after winning the first set during his match against Roger Federer. Click for more photos

Australian Open: Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer

World No 1. Rafael Nadal is through to the Men's Final, beating Roger Federer at Rod Laver Arena. The Age photographer Wayne Taylor captured the game's most exciting moments. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Nadal was unchanged except for a glowering blister on his left hand. The crowd would gasp often at the class of the strokeplay this night, and once, more loudly still, at a close-up of Nadal's hand as it was treated by a trainer. In this game of spot the difference, would the spot become the difference?

Well, no. The match lived up to its billing in its atmospherics. The plink of Federer's racquet told of exquisite timing, the crump from Nadal's told of furious top-spin. Initially, they were mutually neutralised.

But soon, the pattern was apparent. Longer points suited Nadal. Federer needed to shorten them, but Nadal's spin and placement would not let him. In the first set tie-breaker, Federer moved to cut Nadal off at the pass, but dumped his backhand volley into the net. It proved to be decisive. In that moment, Federer lost some of his certitude, even his aura.

Chasing the game, he took risks, made mistakes, was humanised. Seemingly in almost every service game, he faced break points. Nadal was down break points only once for the night, in the third set. But the momentary parity was an illusion.

The crowd clamoured for Federer, unavailingly. Nadal fashioned his ruthless and relentless game, and why not? Since his return from injury last year, it has been invincible. Federer tried to take the net again, but it was one thing to stop the passing shots of mortals, another to deaden Nadal's bolts. One more volley into the net prefigured the end. As the roof closed over Rod Laver arena, so did Federer's Open.

Nadal took care of niceties. "First of all, it's a very, very special feeling for me when I go on the court with Roger," he said. "I have very, very emotional feelings. He's a great champion, and for me it's a great honour to be in the same era like him." All that skill, and chivalry, too.

Nadal's mission now is to equal or better Federer's record tally of majors, starting Sunday. Federer's is to win another major when no-one expect him to, as champions do. His revived form in this tournament suggests that it is not beyond his powers yet. In the meantime, may their paths cross a few more times yet. For now, there are two certainties, that the boasting rights belong to Nadal, and that he will not boast.

The finale is complete; now for the final.

61 comments so far

  • Very predictable result. Federer can't cope with the Nadal onslaught to his backhand. When he does cope with it he's so far out of court that Nadal just rifles a forehand winner. Nadal will win 25 majors if he can stay fit. Nadal will go down as the greatest of all time - no question. He may not be as pretty to watch as Federer, but the results will tell the story. No-one in the history of the game has played with such brute force, athleticism, or with as much HEART as Rafa. That's the other difference between Roger and Rafa - ticker.

    Commenter
    Kermit Jagger
    Date and time
    January 24, 2014, 10:53PM
    • Ticker isn't the major difference, though you could be forgiven for thinking that as Roger looks a broken man at the completion of yet another loss to the Spaniard. No, for me it's about the power. Rafa brutalses Federer. He just overpowers him and breaks him mentally. It's kill the body, kill the mind tennis. Federer is a great champion but Nadal is on another planet.

      Commenter
      Hegers
      Date and time
      January 24, 2014, 11:19PM
    • Ummm...are you aware that Federer is 32 years old...five years older than Nadal in his prime? Are you aware that Federer has been world number one for a record 302 weeks? Are you aware, that if you take the Roland-Garros (French Open) away from the Nadal's equation, he has only won five other grand slams. Other greats such as Sampras have never won the Frenchie. Alone, as a Roland-Garros player, clearly the mighty Nadal is the best in history, and yes, Federer has one one of those too. But put that aside, Federer stands heads and shoulders above Nadal as he has won 7 Wimbledons, 5 US opens, and 4 Australian opens compared with Nadal's 2, 2 and 1 respectively. Numbers-wise...simply no comparison. We'll see if Nadal can make up for the difference in the next five years as he heads towards 32 years of age. If he does, then I'll acknowledge the Spanish Matador greater than the Fed Express. I love watching both players, and we are privileged to have both in the same era. Yes, I expect Nadal to be the next Australian Open Champion, and it is regretful that Nadal is not playing Djokovic, Federer or Murray. Not looking forward to the slaughter that we'll see on Sunday night! The other swiss wanna-be might as well as retire from the game immediately on the grounds of ill-health, as I'm pretty certain he won't sleep well tonight regardless of how many pills he takes. A bit of advice from Tomic might help.

      Commenter
      Blue Boy
      Location
      Ballarat
      Date and time
      January 25, 2014, 12:00AM
    • Is Nadal the best player of all time? Who knows across eras.
      Laver missed many of his best years between double grand slams, and was a freakish player, doing things that left opponents in awe. Gonzales was a super-talent whose pro-career made it hard to compare, but he could beat anyone on his day.
      Roger Federer can't possibly be, regardless of hs record, as Rafa has beaten him 23 times out of 33. No-one could be called the best when another player usually flays him.

      Commenter
      Frank
      Date and time
      January 25, 2014, 4:56AM
    • I disagree that Federer was overpowered; the stats prove it. Federer outdid Nadal on average first and second serve speed, net points won, break points won and perhaps surprisingly winners hit. Nadal won the match with a higher receiving points won percentage and half the number of unforced errors (25 to 50).

      Commenter
      Fed fan
      Date and time
      January 25, 2014, 7:35AM
    • Agree. Nadals gretest rival is Djokovic. Novak can cope with Nadals power and is not intimidated by him like Federer is. Hopefully Novak can get his mojo back and the two can play out more classic grand slam finals.

      Commenter
      Matthew
      Location
      Lane Cove
      Date and time
      January 25, 2014, 8:44AM
    • 'ticker..' What a ridiculous comment. You have just shown an astounding ignorance of the game of the tennis, and the merits of Roger Federer. Who cares who's the 'greatest' - of anything.

      These are boring debates for boring people.

      What is important is the game , and the excitement of witnessing 2 gifted athletes competing against each other.

      Kermit, your're biased superficial rantings of - 'he's the best - no, he's the best, belong in the playground with other 12 year old schoolkids.

      Commenter
      Andrew
      Location
      Newcastle
      Date and time
      January 25, 2014, 8:51AM
    • Federer refuses to go outside his comfort zone, that is why Rafa has him on toast whenever he chooses.

      Commenter
      Poseur
      Location
      Who me?
      Date and time
      January 25, 2014, 10:03AM
    • I agree totally. Nadal will get at least 20 majors and go down as the greatest. All the talk is Federer being the best yet Nadal has quietly increased his majors wins. He will win tomorrow night, the French open in May and possibly Wimbeldon. Remeber he is 5 years younger than Federer which nobody seems to be mentioning. I remember watching him at 18 years of age and commenting how good this kid was. He reminds me of a dog with a bone. He won't let go and Federer met his match last night. No amount of skill from Federer will now overcome Nadal's fitness and sheer tenacity. Federer will NOT win another major. He should see the year out and hang up his boots.

      Commenter
      hg
      Date and time
      January 25, 2014, 10:55AM
    • I wouldn't criticized Federer, but i agreed that Nadal is a better player. In fact i sensed Nadal will take over Federer's grand slam record one day.

      Commenter
      Gerson
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 25, 2014, 3:15PM

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