He was the usual Rafael Nadal before any ATP match—apparently still obsessive compulsive as he lined up his bottled water and his body towels on the bench where he sat before striding to the court for the finals of the first Grand Slam of the year, the 2017 Australian Open, in Melbourne last Sunday.
His opponent was old nemesis Roger Federer, who was to contest his first big four championships in maybe five years.
The two greats were tied after four sets of what eventually was described as an epic battle, not a grudge encounter, partly because Rafa leads Roger head-to-head by a mile.
It was during the fifth and deciding set that wear-and-tear set in on Nadal.
leading 3-1, the Spaniard saw his huge advantage disappear, allowing the Swiss maestro to even the count.
Federer then won the last three games for a final score of 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in the almost three-hour clash.
This corner thinks that one problem with the game of today’s Nadal is that he cannot anymore reach for seemingly irretrievable balls thrown at him by Federer.
There were a few times when he tries, however, but not as hard as he was doing four, five years ago.
Another, we think, is that Nadal seldom employs the backhand against the Swiss, whose other big weapon is the forehand.
If you cared to watch the replays of the Melbourne match, you would perhaps notice that Nadal—instead of returning the ball to Federer with a backhand shot, chose to make his rival chase it down with a two-fisted forehand.
Of course, Federer almost always won the points as a result of the choices that Nadal made.
Nadal was less successful with his two-tested forehand because he is a natural left-hander.
The Spaniard’s single-handed backhands—despite the match statistics putting him ahead of his great rival——have not been as strong as Federer’s.
For both players, age seems to be creeping in.
Federer is 36 and the oldest winner of a Grand Slam, Nadal is 30.
A day after his record-setting title, the Swiss legend said it looked like it’s time for him to give his tennis balls and tennis rackets a rest because his body is already aching all over.
No word from Nadal yet but, if it is not coming, he had better brush up again on the single-fisted forehand.
Meanwhile, Free Kick is crowning Mr. Roger Federer, Mr. Switzerland, “Mr. Universe’ of 2017, not the least because he has been a study in grace, athleticism, sportsmanship.
We thank you, Mr. Switzerland!