Four-time Australian Open champion Roger Federer, back after a six month injury layoff, is through to his sixth final at the Flinder’s Park in Melbourne after a hard fought three hour , five set 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3 win over compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, the 2014 champion. Federer who last won in 2010, defeating the current world number one Andy Murray, now plays his arch rival Rafael Nadal of Spain, also a 5 set winner, against the resurgent Grigor Dmitrov of Bulgaria.
The 17th seeded Swiss superstar, is now within only one win of an 18th Grand Slam title, he is the oldest man to reach a grand slam singles final since 39 year old Australian Ken Rosewall reached the U.S. Open final at Forest Hills in 1974.
In the first set Federer broke serve in the twelveth game after converting on his fourth break point of the set. Wawrinka wasted three break point chances. Federer got the vital break in the sixth game of the second set after converting on his second break point chance. He served out the set to love and held his own serve to go 1-0 in the third set. That is where Wawrinka, winner of three major titles, launched a massive comeback taking the next six games, claiming the third set at 6-1 in the process and going 1-0 up in the fourth. Federer broke back right away. Wawrinka finally broke again in the ninth game and himself served out the set to love to take the match to the decider.
Federer left the court for treatment at the start of the fifth set – the first time after 21 career meetings between the two that the match has gone to a fifth set. Wawrinka had chances to break in the third and fifth game of the decider, but it was Federer who got the only break in the final set in the sixth game courtesy of a nervy double fault from Wawrinka.
Federer then held his own serves twice to clinch the win in three hours and four minutes. He is now 19-3 against the reigning U.S. Open champion Wawrinka, who only needs to win Wimbledon to complete a career slam. In what will be Federer’s 100th match at the Open, he faces the prospect of a repeat of the 2009 final against Nadal who eked out a (nearly) 5hr win over the 2014 Wimbledon semifinalist, Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.
In a match played a day after the first semi-final, both the players set the tone for the match, as early as the first game – where Dimitrov created 2 break points, only to be denied by Nadal. Dimitrov opened his service with a nerveless love-game, but was promptly broken in the 4th game of the set – his second serve game. That was all the 9 time French Open Champion required to grab the set as both players were dominant in the serve games that followed.
After losing the first set at 6-3, Dimitrov started the second set with a more aggressive mindset and that forced Nadal to take more risks and forced the 14 slam champion to over-cook his groundstrokes frequently. Dimitrov broke Nadal’s serve in the fourth game and some mysterious exchange of breaks ensued when Nadal got the break back in the 7th game. Dimitrov had the last strike as he kept up his shot-making even as an edgy Nadal made some inexplicable errors.
The third set followed a similar pattern with only 1 pair of breaks traded in the middle of the set. Nadal was struggling to find the sweet spot between offense and defense, while Dimitrov was unable to barge through the openings created by Nadal’s indecision. Nadal dug deep into his experience and played the tie-break with enough clarity to edge Dimitrov for a 2 sets to 1 lead.
The fourth set saw both players concentrating on their serves and they did that to near perfection as neither player faced a break point the entire set and the match eventually drifted to its second tie-break. This time, it was the Bulgarian who stamped his authority and took the tie-break 7-4 to force a decider.
The decider started with an edge-of-the-seat game which lasted 13 minutes in which Dimitrov saved 3 break points to hold on to dear life and his serve. Nadal saved a break point in his first serve game and a few tense minutes later, the two of them found themselves in the business end of the match at 4 all in the final set. Having saved 2 break points in the 8th game, Nadal pressed ahead to build the pressure on the 15th seed who was cramping.
Nadal got the all-important break and proceeded to serve out the match.On match point, Nadal fired a backhand down the line to end the Bulgarian’s courageous resistance and complete a 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-7, 6-4 win and make his first Grand Slam final in nearly 3 years. In the final, the Spaniard will face 17time Grand Slam champion Federer for the 35th time. A win for Nadal will make him the first man in open era to win the career slam twice. A win for Federer will make him the first person to win 5 titles at 3 Grand Slams.
The ladies final will be between the Williams sisters, the thirteenth seeded Venus and the second seeded Serena, nineteen years after their first career meeting at Melbourne Park. Serena leads the head to head between the two 16-11.
In the first semi final, the unheralded 25 year old Coco Vandeweghe, took the first set in a tie-break, but the 36 year old Venus stormed back to clinch the next two sets, winning the match 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-3 in two hours and twenty five minutes. Serena wasted little time beating the 34 year old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-2, 6-1 in just 50 minutes.
Strangely it was the first meeting between the two in 19 years. The 79th ranked Croat had last advanced to the second round at the Open in 1998, and in seven subsequent visits had exited in the first round. Serena never faced a break point in the entire match and converted five out of six break point chances in the match.
The 35 year old Serena, has won both the Australian and U.S. Open six times each, Wimbledon seven times and thrice at Roland Garros. The 36 year old Venus whose best performance here was a runner up finish in 2003 (lost to Serena), has been a five time Wimbledon champion and a two time U.S. Open champion. The pair last met at the quarter final of the U.S. Open in 2015 and the last time that Serena lost to Venus was in the semi final of the Canadian Masters in 2014 in Toronto.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]