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Rediff.com  » Sports » Nadal a formidable obstacle in Federer's quest

Nadal a formidable obstacle in Federer's quest

January 31, 2009 15:19 IST

Only the familiar figure of Spain's Rafa Nadal now stands between Roger Federer and his seemingly inevitable march to tennis immortality.

If Federer beats Nadal in Sunday's Australian Open final, the Swiss master will equal Pete Sampras's record of 14 grand slam singles titles and enhance his claims to being the greatest player of all time.

Federer, 27, has already won the Australian Open three times and has hit his peak at exactly the right time, but he faces a younger opponent on his own quest for greatness.

Nadal, 22, has beaten Federer in 12 of their 18 past meetings, including the last three French Open finals and the 2008 Wimbledon final, an epic five-setter regarded by many as the greatest match ever played.

Nadal also ended Federer's record of 237 consecutive weeks as world number one last year, adding revenge to all the other ingredients promising another classic confrontation at Melbourne Park.

"It's an unbelievable opportunity for me, not being number one anymore, trying to beat the number one in the world and getting the 14th grand slam," Federer said.

"This is where I won the grand slam to become number one in the world, back in 2004, so I've always had a special liaison with this tournament.

"The stage is set for a great match and I hope we can live up to them like we did in Wimbledon."

Federer's rivalry with Nadal is already one of the greatest matchups in tennis, although the pair are a complete contrast in style.

Sunday's clash will be their seventh meeting in a grand slam final, matching the record of Bill Tilden and William Johnston at the U.S. Open between 1919 and 1925.

POWER TOOLS v PATIENCE

Federer is right-handed and possesses all the power tools required in the modern game, but retains the artistry and delicate touch of past generations, including a one-handed backhand and a penchant for serve and volley.

Nadal is all strength and patience, an aggressive lefthander who puts outrageous amounts of spin on the ball to force his opponents behind the baseline to engage him in a slugfest.

Nadal is virtually unbeatable on clay and his Wimbledon victory showed he can play on grass too, but he has never won a grand slam final on hardcourt, Federer's favourite surface.

"It is always special to play against Federer but to play another final of a grand slam (against him) is more exciting," Nadal said.

"For sure, I'd prefer another opponent but that's what makes the sport so big, finals like this."

No Spaniard has won the Australian Open and Nadal's chances of winning this time were not helped by his five hour, 14 minute semi-final against compatriot Fernando Verdasco on Friday night, the longest match ever played at the Australian Open.

"I don't know how I'm going to be for the final," Nadal said.

"I'm going to try my best to recover my body and my physical performance but after a match like this, the next day you feel much heavier."

Federer played his semi-final against Andy Roddick 24 hours earlier but said that did not give him any real advantage against his super-fit opponent.

"I don't think it's really going to affect Rafa that much. He's had very easy matches going into his semi-final," said Federer, who came from two sets down to beat Tomas Berdych in the fourth round but won all his other matches in straight sets.

"His matches usually take longer than other matches because he takes his time out on the court. I don't think he will be really affected Sunday.

"I'm looking forward to a great match and then hopefully equal Pete's record."

Julian Linden
Source:
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