Roger Federer fans are a loyal lot. They have been behind their man for years and have agonized about whether he could add to his record Grand Slam total of 17 ever since his last win at Wimbledon in 2012.
Now that his 18th is in the books, surely they can all take a deep breath and just enjoy the rest of his career with a minimum of anxiety – after all, they got their wish.
The fact that he has achieved No. 18 when hopes may have been at their lowest point after a knee injury and self-imposed six-month exile from the game to rehab, only added to the magic of his 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Rafael Nadal on Sunday night in Rod Laver Arena at the Australian Open.
There have been so many Federer disappointments involving Nadal – it had been nine and a half years and seven tournaments since he beat the rugged Majorcan at a Grand Slam.
Nadal had become his nemesis – leading their head-to-head 23-11 and winning nine of their 11 meetings at Grand Slams. Federer’s only successes came in the 2006 and 2007 Wimbledon finals.
Put a Federer – Nadal match-up on any surface but grass and the Swiss was winless in almost 12 years of Grand Slam head-to-heads.
As much as finally reaching 18 was remarkable, finally beating Nadal on the hard courts (after losses in 2009, 2012 and 2014) at the Australian Open was a personal hallelujah moment for the 35-year-old Swiss.
As superior as Nadal has been one-on-one, Sunday’s win may well turn out to be the closing argument in the debate about who is the best player “of the history,” as Rafa would put it.
The 18-14 Grand Slam gap between the two would appear to be a significant enough buffer to protect Federer from being caught by Nadal. A 17-15 count would have revived the debate and Nadal’s five-year age advantage would have been in his favour.
Now, with Federer’s seven titles to two at the most hallowed of events – Wimbledon – his superior (302 to 141) weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings, his six to zero titles at the ATP World Tour Finals and 18 Grand Slams championships overall to 14, clearly tilts the GOAT scales solidly on his side and away from Nadal.
When the 2017 Australian Open began over two weeks ago, few thought Federer (above with coaches Ivan Ljubicic left and Severin Luthi) had much chance. Then world No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic were ousted by the end of the seventh day and the draw broke open for Federer. After ineffectual performances in beating Jurgen Melzer and Noah Rubin in the first two rounds, he hammered Tomas Berdych and then got past an injured Kei Nishikori in five sets to reach the quarter-finals. Instead of Murray there, he faced Mischa Zverev and outclassed the 29-year-old German before playing Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals. It looked liked Wawrinka might rally from a two-sets deficit to beat Federer when he had two break points in the fifth set. But Federer saved them and broke serve in the following game, when the 31-year-old Wawrinka played a shocker four points, and rode that to victory.
In the final against Nadal, he bravely stuck to his offensive, attacking game even when things looked bleak at 1-3 in the final set against the strong-willed and uber-physical Nadal.
There are strong similarities between Federer’s win and Pete Sampras’s final Grand Slam triumph (No. 14) in 2002 at the US Open. At the time Sampras was seeded No. 16 after late career struggles and Federer was No. 17 this year. And both profited from fate as Sampras overcame a wounded (foot) young Andy Roddick in the quarter-finals and was able to beat Sjeng Schalken in three sets in the semifinals and then, in the final, a tired Andre Agassi who played a tough four sets to beat Lleyton Hewitt in the previous day’s second semifinal.
But unlike Sampras, Federer shows no inclination to make that his last hurrah – to leave the sport on a high.
There was a slight suggestion that his days might be numbered when he said, “I hope to see you next year and if not this was a wonderful run here and I cannot be more happy than to have won tonight,” during the trophy presentation on Sunday. But he’s enjoying his career too much to end it anytime soon – especially having had a taste in the second half of last year of what life can be like away from the camaraderie, energy and excitement of the tour.
Federer’s sensational five-set win over Nadal overshadowed Serena Williams’ historic 23rd Grand Slam title just 24 hours earlier. (She’s pictured above at Melbourne Park hamming it up with American tennis writer Bill Simons.)
Williams, also 35 like Federer, can probably make an even stronger case than him that she is the women’s GOAT. There were concerns, as the Australian Open began after she was beaten 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-4 two weeks earlier in Auckland by No. 72-ranked Madison Brengle, that she could be vulnerable, particularly when she was to face Belinda Bencic and Lucie Safarova in the first two rounds. But once she dealt with those two quality opponents in conclusive straight-sets fashion, it seemed like an inevitable march to a seventh Aussie Open crown and a No. 23 Grand Slam overall.
The one real test she faced was Johanna Konta, the 25-year-old Brit who won Sydney in impressive fashion, and she was dispatched 6-2, 6-3 in the quarter-finals. The semis – Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-2, 6-1 and her sister Venus 6-4, 6-4 in the final – were almost formalities.
Serena passes Steffi Graf’s total of 22 Grand Slams and is now one behind Margaret Court’s 24 – but 11 of those were recorded at the Australian Open between 1960 and 1973 when the fields were subpar and limited. So Serena, remarkably after not playing for almost four months following the US Open for the second year in a row, turns it on and wins her first Grand Slam title as the future Mr. Alexis Ohanian.
There’s certainly no arguing that Ms. Williams is just as much a force of nature on the women’s side as Federer is on the men’s.
Milos and Genie down under
MILOS RAONIC: Another troubling injury exit at a Grand Slam for Raonic, who had a fitness issue at a Grand Slam for the sixth time in seven events during his 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-4 quarter-final loss to Rafael Nadal. It has to be a concern for coaches Richard Krajicek, pictured on the right, and Riccardo Piatti on the left. All the reports are always very positive about fitness trainer Dalibor Sirola but there must be some difficult questions to be answered as Raonic, now 26 and ranked No. 4, continues his all-out quest for a Grand Slam title.
He did have a good win 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 over Nadal in Brisbane but that was sort of cancelled by the Spaniard’s straight-sets victory at Melbourne Park. Although it remains a mystery how Raonic could fail to convert any of the six set points he had in the second set against Nadal. With the reoccurrence of the right adductor injury it remains to be seen when he returns to the tour.
(PIX 5 – Bou running right)
GENIE BOUCHARD: Too many people want to view Bouchard as the player she was at No. 5 and Wimbledon finalist and French and Australian semifinalist in 2014. This is the new and rebuilding Bouchard – going 5-3 for the Australian season and beating No. 6-ranked Dominika Cibulkova and No. 27 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Sure there was the 6-2, 6-2 loss in the Sydney semifinal to a red-hot Johanna Konta and her frustrating 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 third-round ousting by No. 35 Coco Vandeweghe at the Australian Open. But you can’t win them all and Bouchard had four break points in the second last game that could easily have swung that result her way. When Vandeweghe went on to beat top-seed and defending champion Angelique Kerber and then seventh seed Garbine Muguruza to make the semifinals, a lot of observers believed that easily could have been Bouchard. So…Bouchard is on the way back but how far is still to be determined over the coming weeks and months – starting in Doha and Dubai the week of Feb. 13th.
Andreescu had a fine showing in the 2017 Australian Open junior events. With Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime absent as they pursue ATP points on the men’s tour, the 16-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., maintained a recent record of Grand Slam success by Canadian juniors.
Andreescu, a solid ball striker and resourceful competitor, came very close to reaching the Aussie Open junior girls final. In fact she was two points away late in the second set before losing to 17-year-old Rebeka Masarova of Switzerland 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-0.
There was a pleasant consolation prize when she and soon-to-be-Canadian Carson Branstine won the girls doubles. They had some close matches along the way before beating 15-year-old Poles Maja Chwalinska and Iga Swiatek 6-1, 7-6(4) in the final.
As young as she is, with no Genie Bouchard, Aleksandra Wozniak and a possibly injured Francoise Abanda, Andreescu will be counted on by the Canadian Fed Cup team when it travels to Metepec, Mexico, for an Americas Zone Group I playoff – beginning the process of trying to get a spot in World Group II for 2018.
Two depleted Davis Cup teams
No Milos and no Andy as Canada meets Great Britain in a Davis Cup World Group opening round at the TD Place Arena in Ottawa beginning at 3 p.m. (ET) on Friday.
With two of the world’s top-four players absent, it will be left to the foot soldiers to determine who will play France (likely) or Japan in the quarter-finals in April.
With the Brits having two players ranked in the top 100 – No. 45 Dan Evans and No. 47 Kyle Edmund – they would appear to be favourites against whomever Canada chooses among No. 133 Vasek Pospisil, No. 128 Peter Polansky and No. 234 Denis Shapovalov.
Last summer at Rogers Cup in Toronto, Edmund, then No. 84, lost 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to No. 192-ranked Steven Diez, the Canadian who spends most of his time in Spain and is at his best on clay.
With a familiar and fast court surface in Ottawa for the Canadians, captain Martin Laurendeau will be hoping at least one of his potential singles players can catch lightening in a bottle and win an opening-day singles match.
The doubles will also certainly feature No. 19 Vasek Pospisil and No. 24 Daniel Nestor against No. 8 Jamie Murray and No. 43 Dominic Inglot for the Brits.
A split on the first day could make for a very compelling doubles match on the Saturday.
It’s probably worth noting that the visitors have no real back-up singles player if anything was to happen to Evans or Edmund once the best-of-five match tie begins.
This picture, of a couple seated overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Wollongong south of Sydney, was taken the first week of January.
NOTE: Blogs from Davis Cup in Ottawa starting on Wednesday.