As most tennis fans know, the hype surrounding a match often oversells the event we actually end up seeing. The networks, the journalists, even the players themselves sometimes want to push for the idea that every final is going to be EPIC and the BEST MATCH EVER.
There used to be a time when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were the projected final in every Slam, and as rankings shifted, it was often the “dream” final as soon as the two landed on opposite sides of the draw. But these days, with Roger coming back from an injury at 35, and Rafa not quite at his peak after a succession of physical difficulties, a #Fedal final seemed highly unlikely.
Still, after the largely dismal tennis year of 2016, the tennis community was looking for something to get excited about. As the draw started to shake out on both the women’s and men’s tours, the buzz slowly began–we might turn back the clock to vintage finals of Serena and Venus Williams, and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It seemed too crazy to hope for.
When those “dream” finals finally came to fruition, despite the overall sense of glee and wonder, and the noisy grind of the hype machine, some fans were skeptical. After all, here were two rivalries that were pretty one-sided as far as results were concerned. Would they be as joyous as everyone was making them out to be?
Unfortunately, the Williams sisters, while providing a few tense moments of brilliance, had a largely awkward and uncomfortable match, ruled more by mixed emotions than the tennis. But there was still a lot of joy for fans at Serena’s historic 23rd win, plus the impressive feat of Venus reaching another Slam final and the beauty of her gracious speech at the trophy ceremony.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 28, 2017
Would the #Fedal match suffer a similar fate, as a final big on personal accomplishment and nostalgia, but a disappointing and not-terribly entertaining tennis match? While Rafa fans were still nervous about the #Fedal match-up, Federer fans were largely bereft. With watching the resurgent Grigor Dimitrov turn himself into a pretzel for 5 sets and still lose, the ever-looming unfavorable h2h with Rafa, plus the tentative state of Roger’s knee and a newly acquired abductor injury… The hope for that elusive 18th Slam seemed slim, and many were fearing a painfully quick loss much more than they were hoping for another victory.
The match turned out to be even more vintage than expected, however. It wasn’t just *a* Fedal match-up, it was *the* quintessential match-up. Fed busted out of the gate early, and won the first set in impressive fashion. Then Rafa quickly surged back, nabbing the 2nd set with some physics-defying shots and a bellowed VAMOS. The match had that familiar dramatic ebb and flow, the tug of war between the two as they fought to assert their will, their rhythm on the match.
For Fed fans, as hope swelled with each steady backhand that survived the onslaught of Rafa’s trademark attack, so built the dread that the Maestro would inevitably fade at the end. That the demons of painful losses before would rip victory out of Fed’s hands once again, leaving our hero and his fans in the seemingly endless agony of “what-ifs.”
But it didn’t happen. Though Rafa surged to an early lead in the 5th, and Federer initially seemed doomed to fail in breaking back–the tide turned in the 6th game when Fed broke back. And then he won every game after, battling his way to a 6-3 5th set victory.
So, how did he do it? It’s certainly never one thing that makes a Slam victory. Roger Federer repeatedly talked about the hard work of himself and his team, which are always necessary factors in a victory, but we wanted to really dive into the BIG REASONS. And the fun reasons. And the totally crazy, possibly made-up reasons.
So, we present to you, dear readers, the Tennis Inside Out take on:
THE TOP 10 REASONS ROGER FEDERER WON THE AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2017
“When I saw the draw, and people were talking about the ‘dream draw’…I was like, what am I missing? I’m not seeing a dream draw at all.” pic.twitter.com/0WmZHKnqch
— Tennis Inside Out (@TennisInsideOut) January 24, 2017
10. He had a “dream draw.” Seeded at 17 at the Australian Open, Federer faced a potentially brutal draw, with some scary dudes mathematically possible in the early rounds. The Maestro lucked out in the very early stages, with a couple qualifiers to start, but then the projected remaining draw lined up as: Berdych, Nishikori, Murray, Wawrinka, Djokovic.
While it luckily didn’t shake out exactly that way, it was tough enough. Federer needed 5 sets each to vanquish Slam-finalist and #5 Nishikori, his Slam-winning Swiss buddy Stan Wawrinka, and career nemesis Nadal. The 35-year-old body Federer later described as “fragile” withstood a pretty big test to nab #18.
(Article continues below.)
9. The court speed was “rigged.” While there was much talk of the AO playing a bit speedier this year, favoring big hitters and attacking players like Fed, the conspiracy theories that arose were that AO had specifically sped up the courts to favor Federer, which the tournament director denied. This scandal seems particularly ridiculous to us. The courts on tour have been slowing down to a snail’s pace over the last decade, and once a surface gets raised a notch above molasses, the first thought is that it’s to favor the now-35-year-old Federer–who wasn’t even playing when the courts were prepared, and wasn’t a sure thing to play AO after his long injury lay-off? Okay, sure. (insert “SMH” gif here.)
As Craig Tiley says in the link above, players who shine on clay, namely Nadal and Wawrinka, respectively made the final and semis. The 28-shot rallies that occurred with regularity also speak against the idea of a totally old-school fast court. All that said, a few fast courts on tour should be embraced, not discouraged. The homogenization of the tour lends itself to multiple-surface champions, but can also lead to stagnation and boredom. Seeing some of the different style of players triumphing at various levels of the tournament this year was an absolute joy. There’s no reason for AO to apologize/answer for a slightly speedier surface, whether intentional or not, or whether it gave Fed a slight edge or not.
— Tennis Inside Out (@TennisInsideOut) January 26, 2017
8. Rafa didn’t do an MTO, Roger did, which upset the balance of the universe. If you want to win, sometimes you need to change. You have to do things you wouldn’t normally do, like avoiding getting pinned in the backhand corner looking like a deer in headlights. In a tough semfinal match against the Stanimal, who came back from two sets down to push the match to five, Federer decided to take an MTO for his groin pull. He said he hoped Stan wouldn’t be mad, since Stan had already had one, and it was on a set break, and well–essentially that he shouldn’t have to play with pain on principle when no one else was keeping those same principles. He knows the rules, and love it or hate it, he decided to work within them just like everyone else.
So after four sets in the final, when those graceful legs looked to be tightening up again, Roger took an MTO and some follow-up thigh treatments. Roger did not worry if Rafa was mad, because, let’s be real: Glass Houses, dude. You can call it dodgy ethics if you like, but the Fed feels it’s like union-mandated vacation days…he’s been building up MTO credits after decades of service, and if he wants to legally cash them in now, he’s earned them, dammit.
Rog talked about hanging w/kids, hide&seek, helping w/homework, & then Jim says “Just don’t draw any baths for them next couple of days.”
— Tennis Inside Out (@TennisInsideOut) January 24, 2017
7. Roger didn’t draw any dangerous baths. Courier was joking, of course, about the reason Federer gave for his knee injury last year. But the truth is, Roger took his knee injury seriously. His team and doctors advised pulling the plug on the rest of his 2016 season after his semifinal at Wimbledon finished painfully. That meant missing the Olympics and another Slam, a huge decision for a player to make.
The upside potential was huge, with rest allowing for full recovery of the knee as well as any long-term struggles like the back injury that has often plagued him. With all the little “niggles” that tennis athletes play through all year, it’s a revelation when there’s time enough to actually feel 100%–or as close to it as possible. And the results here were clear. Rog’s body was well enough to withstand three five-setters in a row in order to nab one of his biggest victories yet.
— Chris Oddo (@TheFanChild) January 29, 2017
6. That bird didn’t shit on Rafa. Anyone who’s ever suffered the indignity of being pooping ground for a bird has had someone sagely tell them it’s “good luck.” Well, Rafa might have considered it better fortune to not be underneath that horrific mess at the AO this year, but his superstitious side may be left wondering what if?…
Let’s just say if bird poop IS lucky, it took awhile to work out for Roger…
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer)
March 26, 2014