March 16, 2017
Just when we thought Roger Federer couldn’t get any better, he produced a display of such poise, power and aggression that the great Rafael Nadal was left shaking his head in genuine dismay.
Anyone who thought that Federer’s victory over Nadal in the Australian Open final represented little more than a glorious explosion of energy after a six-month lay-off – probably never to be repeated – had better think again.
The Federer energy levels are still sky-high. If anything, the eighteen-time Grand Slam winner was even more emphatic at Indian Wells than he had been in Melbourne, as he put a temporary halt to Nadal’s own promising resurgence.
Federer was magnificent. And his dismissive, 6-2, 6-3 victory in just an hour and eight minutes was built on the punishing ferocity of his backhand.
Gone was the tactic of running round onto the forehand, hoping for a booming winner, but leaving almost the entire court exposed to Nadal’s own forehand if his gamble didn’t go to plan.
That kind of over-reliance on his forehand by Roger had contributed over the years to Rafa’s extraordinary 23-12 head-to-head lead going into this one. But this new, reinvented Federer doesn’t lack confidence on either side for a single moment.
Instead the Swiss master showed total faith in his backhand – and with good reason. Six backhand winners pinged off his racquet in the first set, two more in the second, and the balance of shot selection just enhanced his customary elegance.
The result, apart from an overall total of 26 winners for Federer, was a match as one-sided as we have ever seen between these two legends of our sport.
Federer purred: ‘I did very well today, I’m so pleased I’m able to step into the court and play super-aggressive. Coming over the backhand has been part of that.
‘It’s a nice feeling to win three in a row against Rafa, I can tell you that.’
Nadal acknowledged: ‘In Australia it was a very close match, I had good chances to win. Today, not. Today he played better than me. I didn’t play my best match, and he played well. When you’re not playing your match, it is impossible to win.’
But who could have played their match against Federer’s near-perfection? We’ll see if the increasingly impressive Nick Kyrgios can do better behind his snappy serve and give Federer a run for his money in their quarter-final.
It promises to be an awesome match, after Kyrgios beat Novak Djokovic for the second time this month to end the Serb’s nineteen-match unbeaten run in the Californian desert.
The 21-year-old never faced a break point against one of the finest returners the game has ever seen. And if that doesn’t give Federer food for thought, the start of the Australian’s match against Djokovic will.
Kyrgios broke immediately, proving that if you don’t start strong against him, you may never get the chance to recover. It was the only break of the match because Kyrgios held firm to march on 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).
So the world is now waiting to see if hot-shot Kyrgios can show the consistency of physical and mental strength that could make him the best player on the planet one day.
The opening games between the highly aggressive Federer and Kyrgios should produce some memorable fireworks.
And with new twists and turns on the tour in 2017, Wimbledon is looking like a totally mouthwatering prospect, even before the European spring begins in earnest.