• Nadal, Federer, Verdasco made for epic Australian Open

    2/3/09 7:04 AM | Ricky Dimon
    Nadal, Federer, Verdasco made for epic Australian Open To appropriately summarize the 2009 Australian Open, one really only has to mention three players: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Fernando Verdasco. But, of course, there were others involved.

    One year ago, the 2008 Australian Open captivated the tennis world, highlighted by Novak Djokovic's first Grand Slam title and his real announcement as one of the ATP Tour's "Big 3," joining Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It also featured Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the charismatic Frenchman who tore through everyone and everything in his path--including Andy Murray and Nadal--en route to the final. It also produced three especially epic matches: Lleyton Hewitt over Marcos Baghdatis (which ended after 4:30 in the morning), Federer over Janko Tipsarevic, and Andy Roddick over Philipp Kohlschreiber.

    The 2008 ATP season didn't stop there: it saw Nadal overtake Federer for the No. 1 ranking, it saw Nadal and Federer contest arguably the best match in tennis history in the Wimbledon final, and it saw Federer recover from a tough year to win his fifth straight U.S. Open.

    In other words, the 2009 Australian Open had a lot to live up to. It's safe to say it did just that.

    Thanks to Nadal, Federer, and Fernando Verdasco, what transpired in Melbourne Park over the past fortnight won't soon be forgotten.

    It began with Nadal posting previously unheard of winners-to-errors ratios while completely obliterating every opponent who stood in between him and the quarterfinals. In the middle of the tournament, it produced a shocking upset in the form of Verdasco's five-set upset of Murray, and it almost lost Federer to an even more stunning defeat. Federer, down two sets to love in his fourth-round match against Tomas Berdych, stormed back to win in five and secure his spot in a most incredible quarterfinal lineup: Nadal vs. Gilles Simon, Verdasco vs. Tsonga, Roddick vs. Djokovic, and Federer vs. Juan Martin Del Potro. For those counting, that's seven of the top eight seeds in the last eight (only Murray, who was one set away, failed to advance).

    And the tournament ended with a final weekend that was nothing short of memorable. The appetizer was a Federer-Roddick semifinal on Thursday night in which Roddick played well and still went down in a hurry, 6-3, 7-5, 7-5. Then things really got crazy. The next night, Nadal and Verdasco treated the Rod Laver Arena faithful to the longest match in Australian Open history. After five hours and 14 minutes--and we're talking about an absolutely grueling five hours and 14 minutes--Nadal outlasted his fellow Spaniard 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(2), 6-7(1), 6-4. Most amazingly, it took five hours and 13 minutes for the other-worldly level of play to slip. Verdasco double-faulted twice in the final game, but he still finished with 95 winners to 76 unforced errors (+19), while Nadal fired 52 winners to 25 errors (+27).

    Surely Nadal would not be adequately prepared for the final, getting just one day of rest whereas Federer got two. Right? Verdasco, for one, was skeptical. "(It) is a pity for Rafa for sure that he played that long match when Roger played one day before and a much shorter match," he feared. "You know, is really a pity."

    Pity what? Nadal returned less than 48 hours later and overcame Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-2 in four hours and 23 minutes to win his first Australian Open title. It was no 2008 Wimbledon final, but having lasted five sets and culminating with an emotional trophy ceremony, it has to be considered another Federer-Nadal classic.

    After 2008, tennis fans were surely thinking that men's tennis could not get any better? If the Australian Open is any indication, it can.

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Current ATP-rankings

1. Djokovic 12 500 pts
2. Murray 8 750 pts
3. Federer 8 670 pts
4. Ferrer 6 970 pts
5. Nadal 6 385 pts

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