The sun shone upon the tennis world, but a piece of its luster was not completely there: Something at the forefront of tennis was missing. However, on Sunday evening in Melbourne, the sport of tennis regained a feature so incredibly familiar and one so dearly missed.
The 2017 Australian Open Final brought the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal back to life. After meeting just twice since 2013, the rivals came together in a Grand Slam final for a record ninth time.
Federer was back. Nadal was back. At the same time as Serena and Venus Williams faced off for the women’s single trophy at the age of 35 and 36, and the 38-year-old Brian brothers were back in another Grand Slam final, the tennis world witnessed two more players in their 30s face off at a time entirely unexpected.
Nadal — after taking the last five weeks of 2016 off to rest his wrist — went into the Open as the ninth seed. Just a year after his first-round exit to Fernando Verdasco in the same tournament, Nadal simply wanted to regain his status as an elite player.
Federer was six months removed from a tour-level event, recovering from meniscus surgery following Wimbledon. He found himself back in Australia, expecting to make a third- or fourth-round run like he expressed in his pre-tournament presser.
The draw placed the two on opposite halves; Nadal would potentially have to beat last year’s winner Novak Djokovic and Federer would need to take down current world number one Andy Murray. Underdogs to begin with, Federer and Nadal facing off in the final seemed inconceivable.
But, as the two rivals brought magic to the game in the past 15-plus years, the tennis gods gave even more magic back to them. Djokovic went down and three days later, Murray followed. A path for Federer and Nadal to square off cleared.
And, after almost a week of hype for the event, match day finally came. People wondered what Federer had left in the tank after beating Stan Wawrinka in another five-set match. Fans wondered if he could finally take down Nadal, who had dominated the matchup for over a decade, and questioned if Nadal could maintain his level of play after a grueling, five hour win against Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinals.
Even with an immense amount of anticipation, the final did not disappoint. The play on court was jaw-dropping: marvelous, above expectations and so reminiscent of what the rivalry had been about.
In the end, after Nadal looked certain to finish off his rival in the final set, Federer found a new level. He regained momentum and seized his chance to close it out. Soon after, a replay confirmed that Federer had made his forehand winner, and the contest was over.
Just like that, it was gone, right before our eyes. What experts say was the most important match in the history of tennis came to a close. The Federer-Nadal saga finished its 35th episode. It seemed too good to be true.
The two could very well face off again, either at a tour level event this season or even in another Grand Slam final. Both players have shown their high level of play, and finals certainly seem attainable.
But if this was the last matchup, what an ending tennis has witnessed: a drama-filled, nerve-wracking final with a world-class level of play.
Fans who woke up in the middle of the night to watch the epic final can now go back to bed. The sun will shine tomorrow, just like it has been for all these years. But, what we can now expect is a little brighter light because Federer-Nadal, a rivalry for the ages, is back.
Matthew Sachs is a freshman in the College.
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