2017 Australian Open Day 12
The stakes were high for both players beyond the fact that this was Grand Slam semi final. In reaching the semis here, Grigor equalled his best Grand Slam showing (a semi final berth at Wimbledon in 2014). He desperately wanted to take that next step in his game and with an ageing (albeit in form) Federer awaiting in the final, this could well have been his tournament to take.
Nadal, on the other hand, was chasing one of the few Open Era records left to capture. If he could go on to win the Australian Open, he would be the only Open Era player to win every Grand Slam twice. It would also be the first time we’d seen a Federer/Nadal final since Roland Garros in 2011 It’s this last fact that explains why just about everyone (except for a few very vocal Dimitrov fans) wanted to see Rafa do the business today.
It started out exactly how most people hoped it would. Nadal got a break early on to go 3—1 up. He would hold on to that break relatively comfortably to close out the first set 6—3.
The second set was not so smooth for either player. Dimitrov looked to even the score when he equalled Rafa’s opener by breaking to go 3—1 ahead. The difference with this set is that Nadal was able to break back in the seventh game. Much to Dimitrov’s frustration, it was a double fault by the Bulgarian that handed Rafa the break.
Not to worry, however; Dimitrov immediately broke once more to reclaim the advantage…
…which he lost in the next game. Nadal broke once more to bring things back on serve, and it seemed the occasion was starting to get to both players. Nadal fought off two set points on his next service game but was able to hold to bring the score to 5—5. Another hold later and we were back on Nadal’s serve. Which he lost. Dimitrov was able to break the Spaniard once more to taking the second set 7—5.
With a set each and little to choose between them, one could have easily predicted that the third set would go to a tiebreaker. And they would have been correct. It wasn’t straight forward, of course. Nadal took the upper hand in the fifth game, breaking to 30. The next game saw Nadal save three break points. Unfortunately, he faced four of them, and Dimitrov was able to bring the game back to serve.
Other than a brief suspension of play 5—6 to Dimitrov, there wasn’t much more drama before the seemingly inevitable tiebreaker. Nadal gained (and lost) a handful of mini breaks, but eventually he was able to get the all important two points clear to take the tiebreaker 7—5.
2—1 to Rafa, and we were into a fourth set.
Unlike the previous two sets, this one went with serve the whole way, though not for lack of trying on Nadal’s part. Dimitrov’s serve was under constant pressure, and he repeatedly found himself in longer rallies with Nadal… which is not where you want to be when playing the King of Clay. Nadal’s dominance did not translate to a break, however, and we went to a second tiebreak.
This time is was Dimitrov that opened up the mini break advantage. And unlike Rafa in the previous tiebreak, Dimitrov never let that advantage slip. He took the fourth set tiebreak 7—4, and in doing so forced a deciding fifth set.
In a match that was already fast approaching midnight under the lights of Rod Laver. It was quite possibly one of the more tense sets of tennis I have ever listened to. The first eight games stayed with serve, but it could so easily have not been the case. Both players faced break points, both players were under immense pressure on their serve. Somehow they were able to hold, but who might come out on top was anybody’s guess.
Until one player got the all-important break in the ninth game. And that player was…
Rafael Nadal. Of course it was. Nadal broke Dimitrov to go 5—4 up and serve for the final set, the match, and a date with Federer in the final. But Dimitrov wasn’t done yet. It took Nadal three match points to see off his opponent, who never stopped trying until the match was over.
Turning Back the Years
We have a Venus Vs. Serena Williams final. We have a Roger Federer Vs. Rafael Nadal final. From the beginning of the second week people have been murmuring about the possibility of this happened, those murmurs getting louder as the days went on.
Now we’re here. And while I’m not ready to write off any of these players for the future, there is a very real possibility we might not see this again. Now all that remains is for us all to enjoy it.