Tennis Prose



AO Final: The Gentlemen Warriors Meet Again!

By Henk Abbink

We can safely assume I am speaking for the entire ‘Tennis Universe’, when I state that this is THE Australian Open Final we all hoped and rooted for and can’t wait to watch!

This is one of tennis’ most amazing competitions, rivalries and, both on and off court, friendships. There has been a bond and mutual respect between these two of the all-time best players, from the very first time they met in Miami (Key Biscayne) at the Nasdaq Masters in 2004. There I witnessed the, then 17-year-young Next-Gen, Spaniard almost embarrassed by beating the Swiss player he admired so greatly. The year after, on the very same court in the finals, it was the Swiss champ we saw winning a highly entertaining five-set duel against the then 18-year-old Mallorcan. The stage was set. What followed between these two role models is history.

This Sunday yet another chapter will be added to Roger Federer’s and Rafael Nadal’s unique and legendary history. Tennis’ ultimate Gentlemen Warriors will battle for the 35th time! Respect and friendship will make place for an all out on-court war. They both want this title!

Who will be the ‘last man standing’ after their equally grueling five-set semi final matches?

Looking at the cold facts: Rafa leading Roger 23-11, a hard court advantage for the Spaniard of 9-7 and a 3-0 AUS Open record in favor of the man from Mallorca, to many (especially Rafa fans) would seem like everything is pointing towards “The Raging Bull” lifting his 15th Grand Slam trophy on Sunday.

Not so fast guys…

During this AUS Open we have been seeing a totally different, almost re-born Roger. The Swiss has been ‘in the zone’ from after playing his two ‘up and down’ first matches against Melzer and Rubin. He then dismantled Tomas Berdych, battled an in-form Nishikori and subsequently breezed through the fourth and quarter final rounds in straight sets, at the expense of Tsonga and Mischa Zverev. His latest victim, ‘Stanimal’ Wawrinka, was close to victory but Roger prevailed in the hard-fought final games of the fifth set. The Swiss’ confidence, stamina and focus, with now also Ivan Ljubicic in his corner, has been awe-inspiring. The ‘on-fire’ Roger we have seen at the AO, will attack both from the back and the net, firing from all sides and corners and will take it to Rafa big time. Roger also had an extra day of rest after his five-set win over his fellow Swiss.

Rafa seems to have gone through a similar metamorphosis. The confidence he seemed to be lacking for a while, looks to be almost back where it used to be. His full focus and winning ways are back in place and his winners count is pretty impressive too. Rafa eased through the first two rounds in which his victims were Florian Mayer and Marcos Baghdatis, followed by a stern five-set test against today’s next-gen 19-year-young Alexander Zverev. His fourth round and quarter finals wins, against respectively 6th seed Monfils and third seeded Raonic, were routine wins. In-form Dimitrov had Rafa against the ropes in their semi final and, much like the Fed-Stan match, had us on the edge of our seats. That match lasted just under five hours, almost two hours more than Roger’s win. Rafa’s one day less rest may prove to be key on Sunday, even though, in a similar situation in the 2009 final, Rafa prevailed.

Some key facts …

Both Roger and Rafa have come to the net a lot and much more than usual. Rafa less than Roger but converted almost 90% of his net approaches in winners during, especially, his two last matches. Roger scored more points at the net but converted significantly less approaches (upper 60%) into winners. The winners and unforced errors of both are in good shape and when it comes to fastest serve they are both at around 200 km/h and average in the 170’s. Rafa is serving aces again. Eight during his semi final match and his first serve percentage has been in the 80% range too.

Winner predictions?

When it comes to emotions, the clear winner will most likely be the Mallorcan. During his match against Dimitrov, cyberspace was filled with more than 1.3 million tweets versus ‘only’ a little over 700,000 for Roger. It seems likely Rafa’s following will be omnipresent online again on Sunday.
Other than that, it’s very hard to come to either clear conclusions or predictions.
If both players arrive on court in good health and with the same on-fire, go-for-it attitude they have been entertaining us with so far, then I give Rafa a slight (mental) edge. If one of them shows up hampered by something caused by their grueling semi finals matches, it’s a done deal for the healthier one.
So my conclusion? Really none! However, you are very welcome to share your predictions with us. Sunday we will have the answer.

No matter who your favorite is, let’s simply enjoy this new clash of tennis’ true titans and hope they both will start the match in great health.
Whether it’s no.18 for Roger or no.15 for Rafa, they both deserve to lift a Grand Slam trophy again. Unfortunately, there can only be one winner!

One thing, however, is absolutely sure. On Sunday the biggest winner will be Tennis!


  • Scoop Malinowski · January 28, 2017 at 8:42 am

    LOL Henk you crunched all the #s and studied a deep analysis and concluded with no conclusion ๐Ÿ™‚ I agree this one is just too difficult to decide or predict – Let’s all just sit back and enjoy another masterpiece of tennis art ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 28, 2017 at 8:46 am

    But if Gunter Parche put a knife to my back and demanded a prediction I would have to favor Rafa – Just because I think he has the formula to beat Roger while Roger has never really solved the Rafa puzzle – It was interesting that Roger said to Courier after beating Stan that he felt he played Rafa too many times earlier in his career on clay and he felt it affected their proceeding matches on non clay surfaces most of which Rafa won – I predict nothing will change and Rafa will find a way to conquer Roger again – if his legs and body hold up after the marathon win vs Grigor which I believe it will because Rafa is super SUPER fit right now though he actually did show a few signs of fatigue vs Grigor –

  • Henk · January 28, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Hi Scoop, I’m surprised Roger mentioned the early career meetings being mainly on clay. The first four times they met three times on hard court and only once on clay (3-1 in Rafa’s favor). In 2004, 2005 and 2006 they faced each other nine times: four times on hardcourt, once on grass (Wimbledon final 2006) and four times on clay (incl SF and Final Roland Garros). So, I would consider that pretty well balanced and not as “too many times on clay” The H2H: 2-2 on hard, 1-0 for Roger on grass and 4-0 Rafa on clay. Total 6-3 in Rafa’s favor. The last 10 hard court meetings 6-4 Rafa and at the Australian Open it’s 3-0 for Rafa.
    Anyway, it’s a new dawn. All this means nothing tomorrow, except for- as I mentioned in the article – maybe the slight mental edge if Roger doesn’t come out firing on all cylinders as, the longer/deeper the match goes, a swashbuckling Rafa will be able to dictate more and more. However, Roger’s great BH has improved again. So, maybe the usual topspin BH pounding strategy may not work as well this time. We saw Dimitrov against Rafa adjust and respond to the barrage on his BH by flattening his BH strokes and, therefore, getting better into the match. Anyway, let’s enjoy to the max! Cheers

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 28, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    Henk: Brad Gilbert suggested that this final is actually for GOAT no 1 which is interesting. I tend to agree. If Roger wins it then it finally shows that he has solved the Rafa puzzle. If Rafa wins again over a red hot Fed it will show that Rafa has maintained his dominance over Federer for his entire career. So for certain experts and tennis observers there is a lot at stake and a lot riding on the outcome of this showdown.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 28, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    I think Roger mentioning that he feels too many of their early meetings were on clay which favored Rafa is a clever alibi to explain away why Rafa has dominated Fed. But hey, Fed is a tennis player like the rest of us and he has to stay positive and he has to have reasons (not excuses) for losing. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hartt · January 28, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    I bought some Lindt chocolates today, hoping they will be to celebrate a Fed win. Otherwise I will be drowning my sorrows in chocolate!

  • Kari · January 28, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    I want Rafa all the way. I think he will win because he has been able to handle the pressure in his last three matches that Roger really has not gotten to experience.

  • Bobby · January 28, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    I don’t count out Rafa in these matches. It’s discouraging how well Dimitrov played and didn’t win. Dimintrov has arrived. If Nadal was feeling the effects of the court speed he would have lost already. All that said, I am rooting for Federer.

  • Grace · January 28, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    I am a Rafa fan but agree with the article that it’s very difficult to predict. Really appreciate the “no conclusion” statement in the article and agree with Henk, Scoop and Kari that my guy has the mental edge.If the Rafa who won against Dimitrov and Zverev shows up, I say Rafa in three.

  • Dan markowitz · January 29, 2017 at 5:06 am

    Fed came out firing, hitting his backhand like a laser. But now after dropping the first set, he’s making a lot of forehand errors. His serve is still keeping him in the match, but Nadal is playing like a wall. Fed has saved two break points in first game of third set with two aces to outside of ad box and he just snapped a beauty of a backhand that Nadal missed to hold to start the third.

  • Dan markowitz · January 29, 2017 at 5:21 am

    It’s evident Fed is the better player. His shots are crisper and more electric, his serves sharper and better placed and his volleys more acute. He’s gone up a break in the third and after it looked like Nadal was wearing him down, Fed is once again moving like a whirling dervish. His footwork is still amazing at 35. Aggasi was a shadow of himself at 35 when it came to his movement, but Fed doesn’t look like he’s lost a step.

    What a 4th game to 3rd set with Rafa down 0-3, he’s fought off two break point and ithe game is at its 4th deuce point. If Rafa wins this match, he is truly not the greatest, but the strongest, physically and mentally.

  • Henk · January 29, 2017 at 6:03 am

    What! A! Match! You’re right Dan. Federer was on fire throughout the 3rd game. Now it’s 4-1 Rafa. We will most likely go to a fifth set. Like I said in the article… we can only guess who will be the ‘last man standing’. Enjoy!

  • Hartt · January 29, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Have never been this tense during a tennis match. A tough, compelling match with good fight from both guys. Did not think Fed could pull it out after the early break in the 5th set. Very gracious speeches from both, just as you’d expect.

    And I am enjoying those Lindt chocolates! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Hartt · January 29, 2017 at 7:58 am

    An added bonus – with Laver there we had 3 of the greatest players of all time together on the stage.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 29, 2017 at 8:26 am

    It looks like Federer has finally solved the Rafa Puzzle -took a few years longer than we all expected but the superiority of hitting faster flatter and with higher accuracy and the incredible footspeed of Roger and serving a little better than Rafa all showed in this final – Still it was a battle that could have gone either way – so perhaps the player who had the greater hunger and desire prevailed – Proud to be a tennis fan right now this was special – Looking forward to how Andy Djokovic and Grigor respond to what happened tonight on Rod Laver arena – It was really cool to see the jubilation in the Federer box after the win especially Ljubicic who was always a stoic robot during his own playing days – Ljubicic is clearly a close dear friend to Federer and he deserves a lot of credit I believe for this career defining victory – Ljubicic has a lot of experience playing Rafa and he shared brilliant analysis of Rafa in “Facing Nadal” book –

  • Hartt · January 29, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Probably several other things contributed as well, including Fed finally going to a bigger raquet a few years ago, the faster conditions, and Rafa having that very exhausting match against Dimitrov. But it was about time for the stars to align for Roger over Rafa. Both guys played well but Fed had that little bit extra.

  • Henk · January 29, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    Once again: What. A. Match.
    Tennis and its fans are lucky to have two such classy and great competitors! Huge contratz to Roger who not only showed his great class on court, but also by mentioning that if tennis could end in a draw, he would be happy to share the trophy with Rafa.
    GS no. 18 couldn’t have happened to a more worthy champion.
    I hope this will also make the usual critics stop their predictions that either Roger or Rafa are finished. I have this funny gut feeling that this will not be the last GS final we will see one or both of them contesting. Australian Ken Rosewall won three major titles after age 35…
    So, as one of the sportsbrands states:
    “Impossible Is Nothing”

  • Henk · January 29, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    Hartt, those Lindt chocolates must be extra sweet now. Enjoy your Roger celebration and don’t eat them all at once!

  • Andrew Miller · January 29, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Breaking News: “Federer, Nadal pen “thank you!” letters to Mischa Zverev and Denis Istomin for defeating favorites.” “We could have done this without you!” both legends say”.
    Couldn’t help it folks. Glad we got this classic match. Amazed how both Federer gets his revenge on Nadal for their 2009 Australian match, a year after Verdasco got HIS revenge for their 2009 semifinal. Ljubicic looks like a genius for joining Federers camp and leaving Raonic’s, which is enough to make me want to see Raonic win a big one in the next few years.
    Nadal must feel obliterated but optimistic looking to the clay season.
    I don’t think this result is a preview of the year. Murray and Chokovic remain the favorites, and I’m sure Wawrinka and Dimitrov and Raonic are eager to get the bad taste of being shown up in a tournament they had a chance to win.
    But was it a heck of a tournament?
    ABSOLUTELY! And a phenomenal finish. Only don’t keep your hopes up for more Federer Nadal matches. They worked extremely hard and earned a few breaks in the karma department, which ultimately got Nadal in the end as Federer didn’t want a repeat of 2009.

  • Hartt · January 29, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    Yes, must agree that another Fedal final is unlikely, although now that both players are healthy (but neither is in the top 4) they may meet in another match earlier in a tourney. But I am looking forward to a season where there are many possible title holders, hope that does happen. To me that is much more interesting than when 1 or 2 players completely dominate.

  • Andrew Miller · January 29, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Meant to say, Federer & Nadal thinking, “Mischa Zverev and Istomin, my dear friends – we couldn’t have gotten this dream Australian Open final without you two. Thanks for everything, fellas, for pulling enormous, logic defying upsets that, we can’t deny, made our lives a lot easier. I mean, sure we kept playing more five setters, but you guys wiped out the clouds of doubt in our heads about “whether or not we could win the Australian this year”. At first it was, “well, you never know, we’ll see.” But after you two pulled the heroics, it went from being iffy and more or less to impossible, to a definite “likely”. And if you can, please feel free to do this again at the French Open! Next beer is on us. Thanks gents.”

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 29, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    Henk: It’s hard to be sure if Fed is or is not actually a better player now than he was at 23-26 – He could be better now – Rafa could also pull a Fed and till have his best ahead – Agree totally about the class of these two ultimate champions – Nobody ever did it better than these two –

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 29, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Those Lindt chocolates are hard to stop eating once you start ๐Ÿ™‚ Fed’s reaction at winning (despite the shot spot delayed reaction) was as euphoric as I can ever remember – this win maybe was his sweetest – The first Wimbledon was really nice to see and his crying with Sue Barker after touched everybody but this one was very very special also –

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 29, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    I looked at Djokovic twitter and no congratulations to the winner and finalist which suggests (to me) that he’s already burning to get at Fed and Nadal at the French Open – Andy will also surely be inspired to prove to the world and to himself that he can beat Fed and Nadal when it really counts – Raonic also knows he can beat Federer and will also gain confidence – Same for Zverev who beat Fed at Hopman Cup in a three set thriller –

  • Andrew Miller · January 29, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    Hartt yeah it’s funny. We had too many Djokovic finals, and once he’s out it becomes a dream final for nostalgia – it wouldn’t have been as exciting to non tennis folks if it were Cilic-Nishikori sadly. Lucked out in the promotion dept down in Melbourne.

    Yeah I think they’ll square off again, I’m not holding my breath for a major final. Both are wobbly enough that they aren’t going to be the #1 and #2 any time soon, and I think the Murray/Djokovic losses have opened everyone’s eyes up to the fact that they should keep working.

    On the WTA side I think it’s been a lot more exciting than the ATP even if we had a Williams-Williams nostalgia match as well. I’m not convinced that Muguruza is coming back stronger than ever, or that Kerber will surprise everyone and grab a french title. But I’m equally doubtful we’ll see another spectacular Williams-Williams final in Paris. There are just too many contenders!

    This tournament if anything should have opened everyone’s eyes to the fact that a player doesn’t need to win from the baseline, they can mix it up. Points seemed a little shorter this tournament (I have no idea if that’s a fact) and, correct me if I’m wrong, there were

    a lot fewer withdrawals once the tournament started. Last year the Australian and other tournaments were losing players to heat etc and so many injuries and w/d. This year it seemed like folks with-stood the conditions. I can’t believe that’s because everyone’s just better conditioned or that players who were considering playing but werent 100 percent just decided not to play.

  • catherine bell · January 30, 2017 at 2:55 am

    Andrew –

    Kerber wants Wimbledon – she’d give three FOs for just one there.

    But if she doesn’t get her head out of 2016 then 2017 will be a bust. Maybe losing top spot will free her up.

    And STOP hitting back to your opponent PLEASE ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Andrew Miller · January 30, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Kerber game seemed to revert to the average. She didn’t look like super Kerber. She looked like 2015 Kerber.

  • Andrew Miller · January 30, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Federer played an awful lot like superG dimitrov in Dimitrovs 2014 Aussie match with Nadal. Fed sustained the pace though, probably by taking a breather in set four.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 30, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Nadal tried his very best to bludgeon the Federer backhand but it never wilted and it never broke down – Rafa threw the kitchen sinks at Federer but Federer threw it right back at Rafa – Fed earned this title the hard way – Perhaps it was his finest and sweetest victory –

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 30, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Kerber looks less strong in the upper half of her body – slighter and thinner – anyone agree?

  • catherine bell · January 30, 2017 at 10:41 am


    Yes – I thought so too. Obviously we don’t know the reason but suspect it might have a lot to do with all that stuff she did in the off season – she maybe took her foot of the training pedal. And maybe she’ll build herself up again now she realises she’s not going anywhere without upper body robustness – her game depends on it. Get swimming ๐Ÿ™‚

    Andrew – yes, she played like the old Golden Retriever – needs another trip to Andre/Steffi ?

    BTW – Simona playing in St Petersburg – injury all better – head in the right place ? We’ll see.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 30, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Catherine: Kerber used to be stout and solidly built head to toe but not now – perhaps she’s content with her superb season last year and does not have the drive to do even better this year –

  • catherine bell · January 30, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Possibly – though I think it’s hard for anyone to be content once they’ve tasted success. They want more.

    I doubt she wants to be stout again ๐Ÿ™‚ But last year she seemed the ideal weight/shape.

    A while ago I wrote that possibly Angie won’t hang around long if she feels she can’t maintain a top level game. I still feel that.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 30, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    Catherine: The typical reaction after a career year is to drop off the following year – Pennetta Schiavone Li Na Ivanovic Puig Kvitova etc all had lapses after their big years – Looks like it is happening to Kerber too –

  • catherine bell · January 30, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    At least Flavia went out with a bang – the perfect time to go.

    May Angie’s career end, whenever it does, on a similar high.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 30, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Pennetta’s goodbye could be the greatest of tennis history – Can’t beat winning the US Open and then retiring – going out a winner is the ULTIMATE feeling one would guess – Will be really interesting to see how Federer charts his grand exit –

  • Andrew Miller · January 30, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    Kerber’s reaction will be interesting. Like Scoop says once you put up career results you become a target for others career defining wins etc and they bring their best stuff. And she now has more players to contend with who want some of that slam glory!

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 30, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    Kerber looked like a shell of herself vs Coco – I don’t think Kerber’s hunger and burning desire to be the best is anywhere close to Serena’s level – No player in history comes close to Serena in that category –

  • catherine bell · January 31, 2017 at 2:54 am


    Would agree with that – no player man or woman.

    Andrew- Kerber spent 10 years or so labouring at the coalface (tennis-wise) before her great year – as I commented once before I suspect her subconcious may say, enough, go off and enjoy life.

  • Michael in the UK · January 31, 2017 at 8:15 am

    Terrific piece here By UK tennis correspondent for the Guardian newspaper Kevin Mitchell.

    …”To echo Hemingway (and Donne, from whom the American borrowed the title), the triumph belonged not only to the victor here but to all of tennis. Both finalists have enriched the game through their personal skills and their rivalry. No man is an island, said the poet รขโ‚ฌโ€œ and that holds true for champion athletes as well as doomed soldiers. They have made each other great.”

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 31, 2017 at 8:33 am

    Excellent bit of penmanship there michael – thanks for sharing – I would add that Federer and Nadal also Djokovic and Andy great also –

  • catherine bell · January 31, 2017 at 9:09 am

    I find Kevin Mitchell and that sort of writing a bit pretentious myself – and Donne always seems to get worked in some way, ditto Hemingway.


  • Michael in the UK · January 31, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    hi Catherine,
    Haha, thanks, I will look out for those literary references in future in Kevin’s pieces!

    The other UK journalist I like is Paul Newman in the Independent, sadly online only now,.
    Who would you recommend?

  • catherine bell · January 31, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Michael –

    I’m a bit restricted now as I can’t read papers that are paywall. So out goes the Murdoch press and most of the Telegraph, which cuts out Jonathan Liew who can be good sometimes when he writes on tennis.
    Mostly I tend these days to like writers who aren’t mainly tennis specialists, more columnists. They often have a different angle and aren’t so caught up in the fan aspect. Oliver Brown, Sean Ingle etc those guys. Marina Hyde (spelling ?) and other women from time to time.

    Tennis media coverage seems a bit fawning and golly-gosh to me, always has. More than sports like football or cricket. I used to think it was because tennis reporters were terrified of losing their credentials if they said anything out of line or critical but that’s probably not really true – at least I hope not.

    The magazine I used to be involved in looked for writers who liked tennis and/or played it but primarily were interested in writing. We tended to get a bit of stick for being ‘negative’ bit I prefer to say ‘realistic’.

    Basically I suppose it’s a matter of taste – just like anything else. Also, although I have zero interest in boxing I think Kevin M does that better.



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