Rafael Nadal ESP (1) vs. Roger Federer SUI (2). For the seventh time in a Grand Slam final, Federer and Nadal will face each other as the two top players in the world. Nadal has won 4 of those matches, including the instant classic from Wimbledon 2008, which some commentators are calling the greatest match of the decade, or even the greatest ever. If Federer is indeed the Greatest Of All Time, why is it that he consistently loses to his Spanish nemesis?
Nadal not only leads Federer 12-6 in overall head-to-head clashes, the Spaniard beat the Swiss all four times they played in 2008!
Nadal is now the No. 1 player in the world and Federer is No. 2. Federer is now at 13 major titles, one away from tennis immortality at age 27 while Nadal currently has 5 and is more than 5 years younger.
Although I do think that Nadal has greatly improved his game since their first Grand Slam meeting in 2005, he has still not quite made the full adjustment on hard courts. The very fact that he played an incredible 5 hour, 14 minute match against Fernando Verdasco simply to reach his first hardcourt major final is both an indication of Nadal's indomitable win but also a nagging reminder that there is still room for improvement in Nadal's game on this fastest of surfaces.
The only players to beat Federer in Melbourne since 2004 have been Marat Safin in 2005 and Novak Djokovic in 2008 and both managed the feat in a semifinal, not a final. Federer is a big match player (as is Nadal, obviously) and he desperately wants to win his 14th major title.
However, in the end it simply comes down to who plays better on the day (and sometimes, a little luck).
I do believe that Federer playing at his best would still beat Nadal playing at his best, but it's not clear for how much longer that will be true. Very soon (and the point may have been reached already as indicated by Nadal's Wimbledon title) Federer's very best will not be enough to surpass Nadal's very best. Then the question is how will the he (and the rest of the field) react, and whether Federerwill be able to regroup and actually exceed Sampras' milestone of 14 major singles titles. I believe 2009 will be the year we find out the definitive answer to these questions, starting with a result in tomorrow's Men's final.
PREDICTION: Federer in 4 sets (or Nadal in 5).