Roger Federer has caused the tennis world to reexamine his status as a serious grand slam contender. After treating Australian Open fans to an impressive four sets stomping of Andy Murray, supporters of the Swiss are now turning attention to how Roger Federer can beat Rafael Nadal in their upcoming semifinal match. The convincing win over Murray, in which the Fed statistically topped the Scottish Sniper in nearly every category, has caused many in the tennis world to reassess the Swiss maestro’s status as heavyweight grand slam contender.
Until his recent Australian Open quarterfinal win, Federer was not so gradually being counted out as a real consistent threat to the other top men, namely Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray. In the eyes of many, perhaps justifiably so, Federer has not been the same player since the 2008 Wimbledon loss to Rafael Nadal which looking back may have signaled a shift of power at the top of the mens sport. At the time it appeared as though Nadal had ascended the throne of international tennis dominance, and that simply given enough time the Spaniard would eclipse the Fed’s grand slam records. Throughout their numerous engagements since, Federer has had an increasingly difficult time solving the Nadal puzzle. As the years drug on, it became somewhat of a foregone conclusion that Nadal, using the same tactic from years past, was going to eventually break down the Federer backhand, and although the Swiss would provide many highlights, a win was quite unlikely.
As the battle’s between Roger and Rafa continued on, it even seemed to some degree that it was harder and harder for Federer to believe in his chances of victory. The man who was so dominant for so long, showed during the bout’s against the Spaniard that even he sometimes had trouble keeping the belief high. Ironically, when being interviewed about playing Federer at Wimbledon, it was Nadal who commented on how difficult it was for him to actually believe that beating the Swiss on grass was even possible for him. Nadal expanded on how hard “uncle Toni” had to work to encourage him to just keep believing that he could and would win. These days, as the anticipated Australian Open semifinal between Federer and Nadal approaches, one cannot help but think that it is in fact Federer who must work hard to keep the belief level up. Who can forget the 2009 Australian Open final where Nadal brought the Swiss to tears as he ripped away a chance at yet another Federer grand slam title.
Throughout the match, Nadal continued to have the answers in many of the tough battles. Coming off of the heels of the 2008 Wimbledon victory, Nadal’s dominance over Federer was still an undecided issue. It was not yet clear whether the wimbledon win was simply a couple of weeks of great play or if Nadal had indeed found the answers to defeating Federer on a surface other than clay. When it was all said and done however, Nadal held the trophy, and a despondent Federer broke down.
The 2009 Australian Open runner up, Roger Federer, could barely address the fans as he stood defeated on the finalists podium. Fast forward a few or more years, and as the rankings have shifted around with impressive moves by Djokovic and Murray, followed recently by an amazing rankings jump by David Ferrer of Spain, Federer and Nadal no longer are a given to meet each other in tournament finals. The venue has recently been a quarter or semifinal match where analysts more and more favor the left-handed Spaniard for victory. After all the recent losses, Australian Open fans and analysts, looking at the draws before the tournament began, no doubt wondered how Roger Federer could possibly beat Rafael Nadal in this years semifinal were the two to meet.
Why Things Are Different This Time
The Australian Open of 2014 however has debuted a Roger Federer that is a little bit different than the Federer of recent years. The Swiss that has been slicing and dicing through the competition with a new racquet, new coach, and new attitude, seems to be one that is forcing analysts to reconsider his current standing among the game’s heavyweights. The Federer that showed up to this year’s Australian Open, cut down Tsonga and Murray in the manner reminiscent of the years he reigned at the top of the game. Murray may have been suffering from lingering back issues, however midway through the second set of the Federer vs Murray Australian Open quarterfinal, the Scot looked no worse for wear. Certainly as the third set wore on, if Murray were indeed injured, one could not visibly notice, as the two players exchange prolonged blows in brutal baseline rallies.
In the matchup against Nadal, there are many reasons why this time the outcome could be different between the two tennis greats. Looking at the recent performance of Federer may be the single biggest reason. The relative ease with which the Swiss is moving around the court, holding serve, and peeling of winners looks to have raised his confidence immensely. In addition, the manner in which the former no. 1 has dismissed some of the players who would have given him significant heartache in the very recent past signifies that he is a much different player than he was in the last year.
Federer has also made some changes in his attitude about coming to net. In the win against Murray, Federer managed to come to net upwards of 60 times with great success. This against a man (Murray) who possesses a deadly ability to produce passing shots from all areas of the court. This willingness to move forward could prove key in the match against Nadal, who may have an advantage in protracted rallies.
The Roger Federer “upgrades” however are not the only things that make this a very winnable match in favor of the Swiss. The quarterfinal match that Nadal managed to survive against Grigor Dimitrov may have provided valuable insight to Federer as well. Dimitrov, unlike Federer, managed to use a slice during some rallies that found the Nadal backhand. This allowed the youngster to transition from a forehand-on-backhand rally, in which Nadal was in control, to one when he was able to run around the shot following his slice and potentially wrestle control from Nadal. If Federer took notice of this and can do the same, he may find success against the forehand-on-backhand battle that Nadal has used to break him down in the past. Dimitrov also looked to expose Nadal when he managed to pull the Spaniard wide to the forehand, coaxing crucial errors from the Nadal forehand. Federer may potentially exploit a similar pattern of play if he noted Dimitrov’s success.
Finally, this year’s Australian Open has been a tough one on Nadal, forcing him to play with a nasty blister on the palm of his hitting hand. The Spaniard has managed somehow to deal with the pain and discomfort to reach the semifinals. It is not totally clear whether the injury could prove to be pivotal in the upcoming match against Federer, however it is just one more detail that may tilt the scales in favor of the Swiss.
As many in the tennis world, along with loyal Australian Open fans, ask themselves how Roger Federer’s chances look to beat Rafael Nadal, it looks as though this year could break the pattern of recent meetings. Federer looks to be a different player and Nadal is slightly injured and has been somewhat exposed by Dimitrov. As it all stands, the upcoming match looks like one where the Swiss will reestablish himself as a dominant contender against the game’s top players.
The one factor that lies yet undetermined is whether Roger Federer himself believes that this time things are going to be different.
Editorial by Daniel Worku