1. Rafa Nadal defeats Roger Federer, 6-7 6-2 7-6 6-4
This SF was an error-ridden contest that still pulled through with its share of tension and dramatic comebacks. Rafa started shakily, making errors, while Fed started by displaying the solid form he had shown in his QF defeat over The Argentinean.
However, Fedal share a long history. Despite Fed’s clinching of the 1st set, I felt the match had yet to really start. Sure enough, Fed lost his momentum and Rafa quickly worked his way back into the match, despite being broken early in the 2nd set. Fed’s forehand wing, normally so solid, misfired into the net and his shanks contributed to a lopsided 2nd set that went Rafa’s way.
Rafa showed his trademark defense and power on the baseline, while also forcing Fed into defensive positions, rushing Fed into mistiming his attacks. There was a tremendous point Rafa played, that may have broken Fed’s competitive spirit just a little bit. Fed’s 63 UFEs to 46 winners stat says it all, compared to Rafa’s 34 UFEs and 36 winners.
2011 Oz Open Champ Kim Clijsters (seated next to Mary Jo Fernandez) attended the Rafa-Fed match in the photographers’ pit, after her own SF loss. This is very likely Clijsters’ last year as an active player and her last time at the Oz Open. She looks wistful here as she watches Rafa reach the final, after her own Oz Open run was cut short.
The Federer twins showed up for the five minute warm-up between Fed and Rafa, before the start of the match (the twin on the right seems to be scouting Rafa). It’s amazing how strong the Federer genes are. His twin daughters bear a heavy resemblance to Fed, who is himself a carbon-copy of his father, Robert.
2. Novak Djokovic defeats Andy Murray, 6-3 3-6 6-7 6-1 7-5
The Novandy SF was similarly error-prone, although it perhaps packed a more dramatic punch than the Fedal SF. For what it’s worth, while I am amazed by Murray and Djokovic’s fitness and endurance, I’m not as enthralled by their style of play. It’s true that both players have excellent precision — in Novak’s case, his point construction is interesting to observe. Still, I felt like Novak and Murray’s rallies too often became more of an endurance test, mixed with occasional slicing and the dropshots.
Which is not to take away from the excellent rallies that took place this Novandy match. In spite of myself, I was eventually drawn into the match, and found myself wondering how it would end after Murray went up 2 sets to 1.
Murray may have lost his fitness or focus toward the end of the 4th set. He appeared to almost be giving away the last game, in an effort to conserve energy for the 5th set. This is a tactic his new coach Ivan Lendl used to employ during his playing days. Credit to Murray though, for hanging on until the very end.
In similar fashion to his QF match with Ferru, Novak brought his fair share of dramatic antics to the match. At this point, all tennis players should interpret this as a pattern of behavior, and do what they can to remain unaffected by the dramatic posturing at the other side of the net.
While the story of Murray’s losses at the business end of a Slam are becoming all too familiar, I actually think there is plenty for Murray to take away from his SF loss. First, he took 2 sets off Djokovic, which is 2 sets more than the last time they played at the 2010 Oz Open final. Also, in his post-match presser, he seemed disappointed but also filled with purpose on how he could improve both his mental and physical game. There is a lot of potential upside for him this year, so long as he avoids the post-Oz Open walkabout he endured in the past.
In his pre-final presser, Rafa shared his observations on Murray’s performance against Djokovic, which included his remark that Murray should have started the 4th set more aggressively. I love how the top players keep close track of each other’s matches. In his presser, Rafa describes in detail the several crucial points in the Novandy match that decided the outcome.
It’s only right that the 2012 Oz Open final features Rafa and Novak. I think the time has come for Rafa to right the ship and restore the balance to his rivalry with Novak. A great showing at the 1st Grand Slam of the year would be quite the way to make a statement.