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Thursday / June 21.
  • Federer-Nadal Australian Open Final Could be Most Important Grand Slam Match of All-Time

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    Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal.

    The dream throwback final is on at the Australian Open.

    “I feel that this rivalry is talked about outside the tennis world and that is good for our sport,” Nadal said. “The combination of two different styles that makes the matches really special.”

    Yet no reasonable sports fan could have foreseen this matchup when the year’s first Grand Slam tournament began two weeks ago.

    The 35-year-old Federer entered as the No. 17 seed and hadn’t played an official tournament in six months after a layoff triggered by re-aggravating a knee injury in his semifinal loss to Milos Raonic at Wimbledon.

    Federer’s last Grand Slam title came at Wimbledon in 2012. His last Grand Slam victory on hardcourts was back at the 2010 Australian Open.

    The 30-year-old Nadal entered as the No. 9 seed and has been bothered by his own health problems in recent years due to his grinding approach to the game. A wrist injury forced him to miss Wimbledon last year.

    In 2016, for the first time since 2004, Nadal failed to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. His last Major title came at Roland Garros in 2014.

    Yet here we are, with Federer and Nadal set to meet for a 25th time in Sunday’s Australian championship after Nadal held up his end by prevailing in five sets over No. 15 Grigor Dimitrov, also known as “Baby Fed,” 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-7 (4), 6-4, in a match that lasted 4 hours, 56 minutes.

    Nadal’s victory came one day after Federer prevailed in five sets over his Swiss countryman Stan Wawrinka.

    “It was a moment that I think both of us, we never thought we were going to be here again in the final of Australia so we feel I think very happy and I hope you feel happy, too,” Nadal said after the win.

    He added: “It’s special to play with Roger again in the final of a Grand Slam. I cannot lie.”

    Nadal holds a 23-11 edge over Federer, including 9-2 in Grand Slams and 6-2 in Grand Slam finals. The Spaniard also leads 8-2 on outdoor hardcourts.

    Federer has never beaten Nadal at any Major other than Wimbledon, where he’s 2-1 against the Spaniard. In all other Grand Slams, Federer is 0-8 against his rival, including 0-3 at the Australian. (They have never met at the US Open).

    This is their first meeting in a Grand Slam final since Nadal prevailed in four sets in the 2011 Roland Garros final.

    Federer will enter the final with an extra day’s rest because his semifinal was played on Thursday, no small thing for a 35-year-old who took a medical timeout in that match for a leg problem.

    Still, the Spaniard will enter this final as a favorite in what could arguably be called the most significant match in Grand Slam history.

    Consider that Federer is the all-time leader among men with 17 Grand Slam titles and Nadal is tied with Pete Sampras for second at 14.

    After Sunday, Federer will either lead by 18-14 or 17-15 entering the French Open where Nadal has won nine of his 14 Majors.

    Speaking on ESPN during the tournament, newly-minted Hall of Famer Andy Roddick said he liked Federer to win the tournament so long as he doesn’t have to play Nadal in the final.

    “Nothing much has changed in 15 years,” Roddick said of the Federer-Nadal rivalry.

    Roddick also said a Federer-Nadal final would be the greatest — and most significant — Grand Slam match in history.

    “Who wouldn’t want to see a match up between Roger and Rafa with history on the line?” Roddick told the Sunday Morning Herald.

    “If you think about the historical significance of what that match would look like, one at 14 slams, one at 17 slams, Rafa wins, it’s 15-17, and the French Open is around the corner, it’s back on. It’s literally game on for the most slams ever. If Roger wins, it’s 18-14. I don’t know that that divide gets made up.

    “If that happens, it has to be the most important match in Australian Open history and possibly grand slam history.”

    So here we go, with the sports world watching.

    Federer vs. Nadal for a 35th time.

    With the weight of tennis history on the line.

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.