November 1, 2015
Roger Federer produced a gritty display to overcome a stubborn Rafael Nadal 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 to secure a magnificent seventh title in Basel.
This was Federer’s 88th career title and he is now only six behind Ivan Lendl, with Jimmy Connors way ahead for the Open era on 109.
A sixth title for Federer in 2015 is already an extraordinary achievement for a man who was written off by some critics the previous year, the suggestion having been that he was too old to stay at the top for much longer.
This was a far tougher test than anyone foresaw, especially when Nadal had to serve to stay in the match at 4-5 in the second.
Finally, many skirmishes later, Federer’s twelfth ace gave him match point after just over two hours. A stubborn Nadal saved it miraculously, but soon faced another when Roger read his pass and punched down a telling volley. This time Rafa hit his return too long and it was all over.
Federer’s 44 winners to Nadal’s 21 told us which player had been the most adventurous – as did Roger’s 23 points out of 34 won at the net. Roger deserved his triumph for pushing himself that bit further.
A relieved Federer said to Nadal: ‘I hope we play many more finals Rafa, congratulations on a great week and thanks to all the fans.’
Nadal could indeed take heart from the fact that he had run Federer so close, when many thought victory for the Swiss would be a foregone conclusion.
After the action was over, Rafa expressed similar sentiments to his conqueror: ‘Congratulations Roger, I hope we keep playing finals like this for a few years to come and it’s been a fantastic and important week for me, to reach the final. The crowd have been a great support to me – a bit less today but I understand that.’
The first set was only once in doubt, when Rafa had a break point on Roger’s opening serve. But the Spaniard failed to take advantage of his rare opportunity – and super-smooth Federer settled into an ominous rhythm on home soil.
The Swiss favourite looked a cut above his old rival as he broke to seize control midway through that opening set, and then found new levels of confidence and aggression.
Nadal served to stay in the set at 3-5, yet he couldn’t take a single point in that crucial game as Federer won the key, opening psychological battle.
It’s hard to compete mentally when you are living with the fear that your body is about to let you down at any moment. The fact that Nadal required the trainer to tape an area just below his right knee reminded us of the troubled year he has had.
Rafa had made far fewer unforced errors in that first set but hit far fewer winners than his adversary too. The high-risk, seat-of-your-pants brand of tennis Nadal always used to generate had given way to a safer, yet less effective game. Perhaps he worked that out for himself during the break – and decided to throw caution to the wind as the second set developed into a classic.
There were flashes of the brilliance that has made Rafa one of the sport’s greatest players in the past. And although he still didn’t exude the confidence and ability to intimidate Federer in the way he has done in the seemingly distant past, his persistence began to pay dividends.
Federer, who had looked in superb physical and mental shape, began to wobble, temporarily at least. A man so comfortable in his own skin was starting to look less relaxed as the set went on.
When Nadal asked questions on the Federer serve and reached a promising 15-30 in the fifth game of the second set, Roger managed to stay cool and brought out the big guns with a series of crushing serves.
Predictably, it was Nadal soon under pressure as he served at 3-4 and 4-5, knowing they were games he simply had to win. To his credit, he did so and then came up with a nasty shock for the Swiss crowd, who were almost ready to celebrate. Rafa broke to go 6-5 ahead in the second and served out to draw level in the match. The 12,000 spectators fell almost silent.
In the end Nadal ran out of steam as Federer broke when it mattered towards the end of that decisive third. But there were times when it looked as though the match could go either way. Federer held his nerve…but he had taken the title the hard way.
Meanwhile in Singapore Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Petra Kvitova 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, fending off a huge comeback from Kvitova in the process. Unusually, for a woman who didn’t end up winning, Kvitova took eight of a possible ten games in a stunning period for the two-time Wimbledon champion. She took the second set and then surged to a 2-0 lead in the decider.
And yet it was a measure of just how cool Radwanska stayed that she made just five unforced errors in the entire match, as she calmly took command once more to close out the match and finish the year on top.
And that was some display of mental strength under pressure, considering that this must go down as the greatest achievement of her career so far.
An emotional Radwanska said later, ‘A few weeks ago I didn’t even know I’d have a chance to be here. It’s an incredible day for me. It means everything. I think this was the biggest day in my life.’
Her millions of fans around the world will be delighted for her.