Wednesday 17 January 2018

Tennis: Federer relishing Nadal showdown

Simon Briggs


There was a revealing moment during the legendary Wimbledon final of 2008 when Pascal Maria, the chair umpire, noticed that both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were making eye contact with him after each point.

"It's like they were saying, 'We need each other's support'," Maria said. "There will be a winner and a loser but let's deal with everything together to make it special'."

That match, which Nadal won 9-7 in the fifth set, was more than just "special". It was peerless. And so is the rivalry between these two champions, which has stretched to 26 matches and eight Major finals.

So it feels a little odd, almost unnatural, that Federer and Nadal should now be preparing to meet in the first semi-final in Rod Laver Arena. Here we have two of the most feted individual sportsmen on the planet. The list of their achievements makes world No 1 Novak Djokovic look like a naive newbie. And yet tomorrow's match will, in theory, be no more than a warm-up act for Sunday's final.

Nadal (right) takes a different view. "We are talking about a player who won 16 Grand Slams," he said yesterday, after negotiating a draining quarter-final against 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych. "I have won 10 and we have played a lot of matches between each other, in very important moments for our careers. All the matches against him are special and will be special even if we are No 20 and No 25."

Earlier, Federer had revealed that he was rooting for Nadal to beat Berdych, because he wanted to settle another score from their rich history. "I'd like to play Rafa because of our great epic match in the final here a few years ago," he said.

Federer was referring to another dramatic five-set defeat, inflicted at the 2009 Australian Open, which left him weeping so uncontrollably at the presentation ceremony that he found it difficult to accept his runner-up prize.

Tomorrow, if Nadal serves up as many short balls as he did in the early stages of yesterday's match, he can expect Federer to scatter winners all over the court like confetti.

Federer swept past Juan Martin Del Potro in under two hours yesterday.

Nadal will be a totally different proposition. But how much will yesterday's battle of wills have taken out of the Spaniard? It was a stressful match, especially in the first-set tie-break. He has rarely shown so much anger as he did when a line-judge failed to spot an overhit backhand from Berdych. After being denied the right to challenge on Hawk-Eye, Nadal unleashed a stream of Spanish at the umpire. For a moment, he almost looked as if he was going to smash his racket into the ground.

Still, Nadal had recovered his composure to win 6-7 7-6 6-4 6-3 and said "the fourth set was one of my best on this kind of surface." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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