Nadal's blistering game too much for Federer to handle

Friday January 24th, 2014

Rafael Nadal improved his career Grand Slam match record against Roger Federer to 9-2.
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Three quick thoughts after Rafael Nadal's 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3 defeat of Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals on Friday ...

• As predicted, blistering played a central role in Friday's showdown. But this had nothing to do with that hideous gaping flesh wound on Nadal's left hand. No, by blistering, we mean Nadal's shots.

For three sets, Nadal did what he always seems to do against Federer. He brought his martial game to bear and pulverized shots, most of them to Federer's backhand. For all the concerns about Nadal's palm, he showed no ill effects; he played "too-good tennis," summoning that potent combination of spin, power and accuracy, and never allowing his level to drop.

Nadal beat Federer on virtually every dimension. He owned the court and controlled the pace. He served better -- winning the same percentage of second-serve points as first-serve points. He won 80 percent of the long rallies. On the few "big points," Nadal played with superior confidence and accuracy. He put on just a comprehensively dominant performance.

We've seen this movie before -- 23 times before, in fact -- and it doesn't make it less impressive. Nadal owns this rivalry, which now stands at 23-10 overall in his favor and 9-2 at Grand Slam tournaments. It's partly X's and O's, with high-bouncing, spin-laden strokes to the Federer backhand; it's partly physical; it's significantly mental. And it has the likelihood of reshaping how we size up this era in the men's game.

Game-by-game analysis of Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer

• Getting the business end of still another match against Nadal, Federer left the court with a sheepish wave, his chin tucked into his sternum. A shame. If the sports cliché rings true, he should have gone out with his head high.

Here's a guy who came into this event as a sixth seed, having lost his last tune-up match to Lleyton Hewitt. But for five rounds he re-entered that trance of greatness, offering the world an uncanny impersonation of Roger Federer in his unrivaled prime. He attacked. He stopped slicing and belted his one-hander. He covered the court, hitting dazzling, creative shots. He beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray.

Federer is too rational and grounded not to realize the lost opportunity Friday and all it represented. By the same token, with some detachment, he is too rational not be encouraged by the improved state of his game.

• Nadal beat Baby Fed (Grigor Dimitrov) in the quarterfinals and then Big Fed in the semifinals. In Sunday's final he gets another Swiss player and another one-hander, Stanislas Wawrinka. (Official name here: Red Hot Stan Wawrinka.)

The beauty of sports, of course, is the absence of a script. Wawrinka could zone and win his first Grand Slam title. But let the record reflect: Nadal not only leads their head-to-head (foot-to-butt?) 12-0, but Wawrinka also has never even won a set against him.

Speaking of sets, three more and Nadal wins his 14th major title, closing that gap with Friday's opponent to three. It will take more than blisters to stop him.

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