It is no doubt that men's tennis as a sport needs a lot of changes. The average viewing age of an ATP tennis match is 61—up from 56 in 2006—and the frantic efforts by the ATP including the introduction of next-gen ATP finals that went to the extent of reducing the games in a set is a testament to the declining popularity of the traditional tennis format. In times like these, it was essential that something or someone make us realize that the old saying—"old is gold"—has a validity in these changing times. It was fitting then that that "something" turned out to be the Australian Open final of 2017 and those "someone" were none other than the very two people that took the very sport of tennis to its peak—their rivalry transcending the realm of tennis—and had now somehow come back from the dead ends of their careers to give us one final show.
There is no doubt that anyone who would have said at the start of the 2017 season that the first grand slam final of 2017 would be contested between a 35-year-old man—who had not won a grand slam for more than 5 years and was returning to the tour after taking a break of 6 months—and a 30-year-old—who had suffered enough due to his rugged style of play, had not won a hard court tournament since 2014 day of rest---would hold up. But we were not to be disappointed as we were treated to arguably the greatest final since Australian Open 2012.
Roger came out all guns blazing as he took the opening set 6-4 breaking in the 7th game using the combination of his topspin neo backhand and aggressive net play. Federer won a whopping 93 percent of first serve points in the set and Rafa was left searching for answers. But being the fighter Rafa is, he rallied back to take a double break lead in the second set and though Federer broke back once, the Spaniard secured the set 6-3.The culprit for the second set loss was Federer's winning percentage on the first serve dropped to 56 percent. The most important moment of the match came in the third set came when Federer saved 3 break points in the opening game of the third set-all with aces out wide Federer eventually won the set 6-1 hitting an incredible 18 winners. Nadal took the fourth 6-3 with the key stat being the 13 unforced errors coming of Roger's racquet---majority of them from the forehand side. Roger went off the court and took a medical timeout at the end of the 4th set. Many thought that the hope of an 18th Grand Slam for Roger would remain a dream given his poor record (1-5) in matches that went to a deciding set against the likes of Rafa and Novak in key matches. The demons of losing to Rafa in 2008 Wimbledon final and 2009 Australian Open seemed to be getting the better of Roger as he went down 1-3 in the 5th set having already squandered three break points in the previous Rafa service games. It was then that something clicked for Roger. He later confessed that he closed his eyes and said to himself to go for it. And go for it he did, as he hit a flurry of beautiful backhands in the 6th game and when Rafa missed a forehand at break point it seemed as if Roger had finally broken free from the seemingly impenetrable jail of Rafa's game. Rafa saved 3 break points in the next game but when Roger won a 26 stroke gruesome rally—the best of the tournament—the gates were closed for Rafa. As Roger closed out the match with a forehand winner—a shot that was unsuccessfully challenged by Rafa—tears of joy rolled down Federer's cheeks and he jumped like a teenager who had won his first tournament. Roger Federer had not only defeated his arch nemesis in a historic final, he had made me realize that time travel was a possibility because I felt like I was taken back to a time when I was a 10-year-old kid,watching the end of the 2007 Wimbledon final—the last time Roger defeated Rafa in a Grand Slam Final.
The match had enormous consequences with regard to the remainder of the tennis season in 2017. Not only did Roger went on to win 7 titles in the year—including a record-breaking 8th Wimbledon crown—he also went on to defeat Nadal in their next 3 head to head meetings. Nadal too went on to finish the year as world no.1 marked by his victories at the French Open and US Open. It can only be hoped that the 2017 Australian Open final was not their final meeting in a Grand Slam Final because when Roger and Rafa play against each other it is not just another tennis match but an equivalent of a magic show in the eyes of us tennis fans.