Final chapter of the Federer-Nadal rivalry?

By Mike Dickson

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will clash for the 23rd time. Photo / Getty Images
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will clash for the 23rd time. Photo / Getty Images

Just when it becomes tempting to talk about a changing of the guard, along comes a revival of the greatest modern classic: Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal.

There is a fresh name to conjure with in the Australian Open final, with Stanislas Wawrinka awaiting the winner after his 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 victory over Tomas Berdych in the last four.

Novak Djokovic fell early, Grigor Dimitrov is threatening to make the move that has long been anticipated and the unexpected women's final of Li Na versus Dominika Cibulkova has further hinted at a possible air of transition.

Andy Murray fell before the final for the first time in three years and will fly to San Diego on Sunday to play for Great Britain in the Davis Cup against the USA.Parochially, Wawrinka could even become the first new Swiss No 1 in 15 years if Federer fails to beat Nadal.

Yet in the midst of all that is the 23rd episode of a rivalry that still has the greatest aura to it among all the permutations between the four players who have dominated the last seven years.

Federer's form up until the semi-final has confirmed the view - which seemed to be a thing of the past last year - that there is nothing more daft in tennis than writing off the great man. He meets a player who has developed into his nemesis.

Were he to beat Nadal it would be an enormous statement and the Spaniard's wobbly form in the two previous rounds, in which he was hindered by blistering to his left hand, may even things up.

Nadal did practise on his day off and there was no strapping to the affected area of his palm and fingers. However, he was expected to be wearing it for the match against Federer this morning, with the possible problems it causes him in the feel of the racket.
Regardless of the outcome, the Swiss can be very heartened by the first Grand Slam of the year and there appear to be three reasons why he may have one final surge at the age of 32.

Although Stefan Edberg only arrived the day before the event, his mere presence on the back-up staff seems to have provided a motivating force. Rather like Ivan Lendl with Murray, his weight of achievement in the sport gives him an intangible authority.

Then there is the success of switching to a larger-headed racket, which Federer's wondrous hand-to-eye co-ordination has helped him adapt to. Probably most significant of all is the banishing of back problems that plagued him for much of last year.

Yet Nadal remains a desperately difficult foe for him, as evidenced by the lopsided nature of their head-to-head record.

The Spaniard went into the match armed with a 22-10 career advantage and the knowledge that he has won the last four meetings.

There is also the question of how well Federer can pull up after a gruelling contest against Murray 48 hours previously which lasted three hours and 20 minutes.

There will have been none happier to see that match go into the fourth set than the Nadal camp. 'I'm going to prepare for it like it was a final,' said Federer. 'I've spoken to Stefan and he has some good ideas.

"Rafa has played differently in every match; against Dimitrov he was much more passive than he was against Gael Monfils, so we will have to see."

All Switzerland will stop if he were to face his great friend Wawrinka, the muscular, 10-year veteran of the tour who has made a gradual ascent to his peak and beat Berdych with just one break of serve. His record against his potential final opponents is 0-12 versus Nadal and 1-13 against Federer, so Sunday is sure to represent a new frontier.

The women's final could finish with the shortest champion of modern times in the diminutive form of Cibulkova.

The 24-year-old Slovak, who is 5ft 3in, routed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2. The feisty baseliner, ranked 24 in the world, said: "It's not about how tall you are, it's just you really have to want something and believe in it, that is the most important thing."

Li Na will be the favourite to claim a second Grand Slam title after her win at Roland Garros in 2011. She beat Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard 6-2, 6-4.

- Daily Mail

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