It was not easy as it used to be when he was at his peak, but Federer made sure he continued his dominance of Nadal on the fast courts as he edged the southpaw 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 in a memorable encounter in Basel, Switzerland. In a week when Federer’s form has been up and down, the Swiss Maestro made sure he could muster his A game long enough to edge out the Spaniard who is starting to find his best tennis as the season winds down. The highly anticipated match – the two have not faced each other since the 2014 Australian Open semifinal – had moments of magic from both the legends and lived to the pre-match billing with momentum swings over 3 sets and 2hours.
The match began quite contrary to the events earlier in the week – Nadal was quick out of the blocks and Federer was not his usual front-running self. Nadal breezed through his first 2 serve games dropping a mere 1 point. Federer found himself up against a break point as early as his first game. The Swiss genius’ shaky start included a double fault in each of his opening serve games.
However, the former ball boy from Basel, Federer seemed to have settled down and gotten over his nerves as he opened up a 0-30 lead on the dynamic Mallorcan’s serve in the 5th game. Nadal did well to level the game at 30-30 but as he has often done this year, under pressure on serve, Nadal couldn’t find consistent depth on his ground strokes and some dazzling shot making orchestra from Federer – which Federer culminated with a beautiful backhand volley, gave Federer his first break point.
Nadal, momentarily, succeeded in denying Federer a break of serve by smashing a backhand winner. Nadal’s inconsistent depth of shots meant Federer soon had another break point, but Nadal gritted it out to bring things back to deuce. This is when Federer unleashed two moments of sheer magic – a flashing backhand drive that screamed through the court before Nadal could so much as move and a majestic down the line forehand winner to seal the break.
In the all important game following the break, Federer found himself on the wrong end of a break point, courtesy of a ripping pass from Nadal’s backhand wing. Federer responded to this crisis situation with the shot of the match a physics defying angled forehand pass on the run – from almost 10feet behind the baseline. Basel’s most famous ball boy, then proceeded to consolidate the break with 2 huge serves – the second of them a “must-see” kicker in the ad court.
A couple of routine serves later, Nadal turned in a poor serve game that Federer sealed with a zooming forehand winner to take the all important first set. Federer had conjured up 16 winners to Nadal’s 6 and he was able to find that extra gear on big points to finish up, what turned out in the end to be, a very comforable set.
Federer continued to pile on the momentum from the first set and Nadal pulled out all stops to stay even with the world No.2. Nadal survived a deuce game in his first serve game and from there on Nadal kept fighting an uphill battle as Federer would race through his service game and put the ball in Nadal’s court. Nadal, though not comfortable in the hot seat of serving, kept Federer at bay to stay on serve till the business end of the set.
Nadal hit his best shot of the match – a forehand winner on the absolute dead run in the 9th game of the set, but Federer closed out the game with minimum fuss as he pulled out a pair of aces – as he usually does when serving at critical junctures of a match. Nadal responded with his most confident hold of the second set and upped the ante on Federer’s final serve game of the set – making Federer hit a few more extra shots than he would like and drawing fatal errors to break Federer for the first time [and which ultimately turned out to be the only time] in the match.
El Toro, then proceeded to dish out another clean service game to send the match into the home stretch. The match was very reminiscent of their sole encounter in Cincinnati where Nadal was hanging onto the match by the tip of his nails before finding that last gasp push to will his way back and find a firm footing in the match.
As the 3rd set started, Federer got down to business on his serve, as he held comfortably. It was as if his previous service game – the last serve game in the 2nd set – never happened! Nadal though continued his service form from the ending stages of the previous set and despite a double-fault, held comfortably.
El Mago – the Swiss magician continued his workman like serving to breeze through another service game. The 14 slam champion started his 2nd service game of the final set confidently but as he as often done this year – he gave his opponent a glimmer of hope with a few untimely faults that pushed the game to deuce, The left-handed Spaniard closed out the game, but one should think that this game must have given Federer a nice shot up his arm -which was already live – producing an impressive 12 aces and 46 winners for the match.
The legendary rivals proceeded to send down a couple of impressive service holds before things started getting heated up in the 7th game on the Swiss Maestro’s service game. Nadal finds a narrow opening on the Federer serve with an impressive return that draws a Federror and a forehand lob winner. The King of Slams tightens up his game to ensure no further hiccups as Nadal stepped up to serve what turned out to be his final serve game of the match.
Nadal – who had served a double fault in each of his previous games – had ensured those mistakes did not send him down a slippery slope, but in the 8th game of the final set he makes one error too many and Federer makes him pay for it by securing the break. Federer started the final game of the match with a couple of uncertain forays to the net which Nadal was keen enough to take advantage of to level the game at 30-30. Federer pulled out an ace to which the 9 time French Open champion responded with a return winner. The 6 time Basel champion then fired a couple more big serves to close out the championship on a Nadal return that went long.
The win ensured Federer extends his advantage over Nadal to 5-1 indoors and 7-3 on the fast courts [post French Open]. Nadal showed enough game to prove to himself and the tennis world that he is on the path back to the top and he will be hoping to build on this to see if he can breathe life into this, rather forgettable, year by winning one or both of 2 of the biggest prizes to elude him in his tennis career – the Paris Masters and the World Tour Finals.
Fans all over the tennis world will be hoping, like these two great champions had said in their post-match comments that they will play many more finals in the future.
–Prakash Potukuchi [ Prakash is the founder of Sportz Cosmos. He tweets here.]