“I would make this the most important tennis match ever, the most anticipated ever, just because who they are.”
It is the match that is captivating sport. Australian Open 2017 has witnessed scintillating shocks. On the men’s side defending champion Novak Djokovic was toppled by an inspired Denis Istomin in the second round, whilst world No.1 Andy Murray was dismissed by a rejuvenated Mischa Zverev.
Four-time winner at Melbourne Park Roger Federer and 2009 champion Rafael Nadal are back at the top of the billing.
Both their return to top form has been a welcome sight amongst fans and in the tennis sphere, but far from expected. Federer has slotted back into the upper echelons of the game seemingly effortlessly after a six month injury absence, whilst Nadal had an injury-blighted 2016.
“Well it is very surprising. At the beginning (of their careers) it was inevitable they’d make finals, so this is the most surprising they’ve played in,” stated Mats Wilander.
“To have one of them in the final is special and crazy, but to have both of them in there means it’s the biggest hype before a tennis match ever. Anywhere, between any players. Just like the Williams sisters on the women’ side.
The ‘Fedal’ final hasn’t occurred at the Australian Open since 2009, when the Spaniard’s magnificent display reduced Federer to tears in the trophy presentation.
Wilander, who continues his involvement in tennis as a presenter and commentator, is astounded by the duo’s longevity and sees more aggression in their play as they have adapted to the modern physicality of the sport.
“That’s the most impressive part about them, that the mindset has changed along the way, it must have, because their games are slightly different,” stated the Swede. “Eventhough the game is evolving, you assume it’s getting better. How are they still there? It’s crazy. It’s all because of them.”
With the Williams sisters vying for the women’s trophy, it is the same four players making up the line-up as the 2008 Wimbledon Championships.
Wilander highlights the quadruple’s mental fortitude. “Obviously these four players have a passion for the game that the 20-24 year olds don’t have. The biggest difference from day-to-day, is their attitude in every single match, every single point, the whole year, for their whole career,” said the 52-year-old.
“Also, the times have changed, so obviously they’re able to stay healthy longer. There are less injuries and with technology, science, physios, always staying in good shape, I think that is what has happened to the sport.
“But it’s really their attitude, you can’t fake it. That fact they have that is incredible.”
Wilander’s triple of Australian Open titles occurred with a gap in the middle (1983, 84 and 88), which will be the case for Federer or Nadal on Sunday.
With a glittering 31 Grand Slams between them, Wilander sees this as the most important tennis match ever.
“You would assume that in the history books that Roger knows he has 17 Grand Slams and Rafa has 14 and visa versa. There’s been a lot of talk that Novak (Djokovic, on 12) can catch them, so if you look at numbers this match is massive in the history of the game, to go down as the greatest player ever.
“Obviously if Rafa wins he’s got two more years at the French Open to draw level on 17. If Roger can win, then suddenly there is a gap of four, Rafa can’t win four more French Open, there is no chance you’d think.
“The fact that they have those numbers is a side story if you look at the bigger picture. It’s in the now, it could shape the future. That’s massive.”
With all the number crunching it is Nadal who prevails. The ninth seed leads their head-to-head emphatically at 23-11 and has won 9-2 in Grand Slams action facing the Swiss Maestro.
However, Nadal hasn’t featured in a major final since 2014 at Roland Garros, whereas Federer hasn’t held a Grand Slam trophy since 2012, losing in three showpiece finals against the force of Novak Djokovic.
Therefore, Wilander believes both of these gladiatorial names in tennis will be fancying their chances, despite Nadal’s superiority in their previous encounters.
“Roger can’t look back too much. He’d have learnt from the finals and matches they’ve played but he hasn’t won a major since 2012, Rafa hasn’t since 2014. So they both have to think, ‘Hang on I’m not playing Novak, I’m playing a guy who hasn’t won in a while.’
“It’s one of those matches that I don’t even know how they’ll live up to the expectations. I think we should cherish the moment that they’re in the final, two great champions, the best we’ve ever had, teeing it off again.”
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