Melbourne magic from old rivals
Celtic and Rangers. England and Australia. Ali and Frazier. Sport has had more than its fair share of quality rivalries down the years, and on Sunday night in Melbourne, one of the greatest we have ever known was rekindled in truly dramatic style. For a long time many of us had suspected that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would never again meet in a Grand Slam final, or perhaps the final of any tennis tournament. All the odds were defied, however, in the first major tournament of the 2017 season, as the big men Sir Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic fell by the wayside while their recent understudies Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka both met their demise against the eventual finalists.
The stage was set then for two of the most successful and best loved players in the history of the men’s game to come to the fore for what had all the hallmarks of a final showdown. Federer was looking to extend his lead at the top of the table of all-time Slam winners, while Nadal was hoping to make it a first win at the highest level since the French Open of 2014. The fans who lined the stands of the Rod Laver Arena were in full voice, and were not disappointed. From the first serve to the final forehand, this nerve-throttling, tense game was a joy to behold. It could just have easily been the 2007 final, both in terms of the contestants and quality. To-and-fro it went, with Federer looking like he had it wrapped up after a clinical third set, before Rafa replied in kind to take the match all the way. It was nip and tuck stuff in the final set, and right up until the end it looked like it could go either way. As it was, it was the Swiss who took it, requiring a Hawkeye challenge to tip the scales in his favour. That is a perfect representation of how close both this match, and this rivalry have been. We may never see the like in tennis again.
And if the men’s game has been about The Big Four, Nadal v Federer and Murray v Djokovic for the last decade, the women’s game really has only been about one name. And once again it was the all-conquering Serena Williams who landed the spoils in typically impressive fashion in her corresponding final 24 hours previously. Setting an Open-Era record in the process, Serena beat her older sister Venus to claim her 23rd Grand Slam singles title, and regain the world number one slot from Angelique Kerber. With a straight sets 6-4 6-4 victory she never looked in danger of an upset, and she makes the perfect start to a season where a calendar-year slam looks a distinct possibility. Due credit, too, to the runner-up. At 36, Venus became the oldest Australian Open finalist in the Open Era, and though comprehensively outplayed, looks a sure-fire threat to improve on her current world ranking of number 11 on tour this year. There may have been much talk of the up-and-comers, or the long-time bridesmaids finally having their time in the sun this year, but if it’s anything to do with the Williams sisters, and Nadal and Federer for that matter, the old guard remain well and truly the ones to beat.
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