The eagerly-awaited Federer-Nadal final has been confirmed in Melbourne! In a nail-biting semi-final battle on Friday, Rafael Nadal beat Grigor Dimitrov (6-3 5-7 7-6 6-7 6-4) to set up a reunion with his greatest rival.
Australian Open 2017 - Federer vs. Nadal – the throwback final!
A dream final? Absolutely! Even before the start of his semi-final encounter against Rafael Nadal on Friday evening, Grigor Dimitrov was well aware that, despite being hungry for a good tussle, the spectators on Rod Laver Arena were hoping to see the Spaniard earn himself a place in the final. All eyes were already on the next round, with fingers crossed for a dream line-up for Sunday's match, one that very few had bet upon at the start of the year's first Grand Slam: Roger versus Rafa, just like old times. It will be the pair's 35th on-court encounter, but the first in the final of a major since the French Open in 2011.
Finales Wimbledon 2008:— Eurosport.fr (@Eurosport_FR) 27 janvier 2017
Serena vs Venus
Nadal vs Federer
Finales Open d'Australie 2017:
Serena vs Venus
Nadal vs Federer pic.twitter.com/fX7lN9bqKf
When asked the question around Melbourne Park, it seems that even the other players have missed seeing these two best "frenemies" at the top of their game on the last day of a tournament. Everyone except, perhaps, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Just after his semi-final defeat at the hands of countryman Federer, 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka spoke for them all when he said, "It would be a great match to watch. Watching Roger against Rafa in the first Grand Slam final of the year, as a tennis fan, would be fantastic. Obviously, it'd be a brilliant final." On Friday night in Melbourne, this much hoped-for date was set.
After winning this five-setter − which proved even more physically and mentally exhausting than Roger's semi-final encounter – against Grigor Dimitrov (6-3 5-7 7-6 6-7 6-4 in 4 hours 58), Nadal made a date with the man he admires and respects the most on the tour, a man with whom he has more things in common than their respective games lead us to believe: Roger Federer, a player who has 17 Grand Slam titles to his name and is always on a quest to further cement his record. A dazzling comeback kid, just like Rafa. And over the age of thirty, again like Rafa.
Read more: Federer's new lease of life continues
"First of all, I hope to recover well," a laughing Nadal admitted in Melbourne, at around one o'clock in the morning after his five-hour semi-final battle on Friday night. "For me it's a privilege [to play against Roger in the final]. It's a very special thing, I think, for both of us to be in the final of a major again, to have another chance to compete against each other after a couple of years having some problems." He then addressed the upstanding crowds in Rod Laver Arena, "We feel very happy, I think, and I hope you feel happy too."
Roger Federer: "In Madrid last year, we talked very openly: him about his wrist, me about my knee"
"I'm very happy about Rafa's comeback," Roger Federer said."In Madrid last year, we talked very openly: him about his wrist, me about my knee. We all know the story: he had to withdraw from Roland and I didn't even play. Later in the year, when I went to see him in Mallorca [for the inauguration of Nadal's academy in October], I asked him, 'So, how is it going?' and he said, 'I'm going to pull out of Basel [smiles] and I think I'm going to put an end to my season.' He did what he'd said the next day, and I told him, 'I'm ok but I'm still a long way off; I still have three months ahead of me, so we'll see.' And, there you go, we're meeting in the final here! It's pretty incredible."
This vintage-looking final will only be the fifth final in the Open era to pit two players over the age of thirty against each other. In their head-to-head, Rafael Nadal is currently leading 23-11, with the added psychological advantage that we know he has over the Swiss. But on Sunday, the counters will be reset, and things are very different to how they were before.
"This tournament has already been a success for us both," stated Federer, "But I know that we both really want this title. It's never easy playing against Rafa. He plays so differently to all the other players on the tour. It's the ultimate test for me." Given that this is also the case for Nadal, a clash of titans can be expected at Melbourne Park on Sunday. And there are consequently sure to be plenty of celebratory Aussie barbecues around Rod Laver Arena!