In his 35th year of life on this planet, Swiss legend and World no. 3 Roger Federer defeated Rafael Nadal for the first time in three-and-a-half years, and for the first time in 5 long years in a title match. What’s more – it came on home ground, in Basel, a venue where he has now won his 7th title in his 12th final. He has won Wimbledon, Dubai and Cincinnati seven times too, and Halle 8 times.
The two rivals played each other for the first time since last January’s Australian Open semifinal – which the Spaniard won in straight sets.
This was the 34th match between the two players. Federer was gunning for his sixth title of the year. It was a most unusual match in context of how attacking and first-shot it was. Nadal came out the aggressor in the first set, and forced Federer to serve well and really utilize the quick hard court conditions. This wasn’t the Nadal that was content to sit back behind the baseline and wait for the opponent to get frustrated. He has slowly been finding his form this year after Wimbledon, and this was his second final in a month. He has been reaching the last 4 of most tournaments now, and his confidence showed, when he forced the Swiss master to save a break point in the sixth game. Federer however took the set, but was forced to pay for his errors in the second, when Nadal broke at 5-5 and then served to love for a decider.
The final set was a tense affair till Federer decided to take matters into his hands. Many believe that he has a mind-block against his famous rival, who he had a 23-10 record against, before this match. It is partly true, because despite Nadal’s struggles this year, he pushed Federer to the third set before finally succumbing to the Swiss player’s blistering forehands. Federer won the final set 6-3, and with it, only his 11th match in what has been a one-sided rivalry for the last five years. He snapped his 5-game losing streak against Nadal, and walked out as a champion yet again on the court he was once a ballboy at.
He will now enter the Paris Masters high on confidence. But, so will Nadal. In a way, it was lovely to watch both of them – Nadal, now 29 and at the twilight of his injury-prone career, and Federer 34 and reaching an end soon – go at it again, just for old times sake, in an era that doesn’t belong to them anymore.
You could almost imagine the screen go black-and-white while they played a 3-set classic for a privileged Basel crowd. With Djokovic being the unbeatable machine that he is, and Murray in and out of form, Federer and Nadal don’t face each other too much in the main tournaments anymore. This ATP500 tournament served as a perfect stage, while Nadal had to battle through four consecutive three-setters in the week, against tough opponents.
2016 will be different for most fans of these two legends. It is surely a make-or-break year for Nadal, and his final chance to win the French Open again before he gets old. Federer, meanwhile, is bound to lose some steam after a phenomenal two years. He is far behind Djokovic, but many consider him to still be the only challenger and the real number 2 player in the world. Only, one isn’t too sure Federer likes ‘2’ attached to his name anymore.