REPORTING FROM MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - There wasn't much to choose between Roger Federer's elegant, airy tennis -- silently played with all the angles calculated and covered -- and Rafael Nadal's elemental tennis, the grunting, noisy, spinning, whooshing power of the lefty's two-handed backhand and muscled forehand.
Not until the fifth set.
That's when Nadal's relentless ferocity finally pushed Federer into
desperate shots and mistakes that came faster and faster until,
finally, Nadal accepted one last Federer error, a long and aimless
forehand that sent Nadal to the ground in a heap of joy.
Nadal, the 22-year-old top-seeded and top-ranked Spaniard with a
crooked grin but straight-ahead focus, won his first Australian Open
title with a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2 over the second-seeded Federer
today on the Rod Laver Arena court.
After it was over, after he had been unable to counteract Nadal's
constant ability to crunch the ball into all the corners, after he was
unable to rattle Nadal with either his clever lobs or sticky volleys,
Federer wept while Nadal stood quietly aside, being respectful after he
had finished dismantling his opponent.
The 27-year-old from Switzerland, who was aiming to tie Pete Sampras
with 14 career Grand Slam tournament titles, tried to thank the Rod
Laver Arena crowd. But Federer could only say, "Hi guys. I've felt
better. Thanks for the support. You guys are unbelievable. Maybe . . ."
Then, as the crowd gasped, Federer had to step away from the microphone
as he began sobbing.
Nadal said he was honored to be on the court with Federer and called
his beaten opponent the best ever. "I know he will win another," Nadal
Later, nearly two hours after the match was finished and Nadal had
endured drug testing, gotten treatment on a sore right hamstring and
overcome a dizzy spell in the locker room, he said he understood
"I'm sorry it was a tough moment for Roger today," Nadal said. "I know
how tough that must be. He's a great champion, he's for sure a very
important person for our sport. I was sorry for him but at the same
time I congratulate him for everything."
Federer explained his tears as a release of tension, an immediate
reaction to the disappointment. "No time to take a cold shower,"
Federer said. "But you can't go through life as a tennis player taking
every victory that's out there. If you're that close, that's what is
tough about it, but I have no regrets so it's all right."
Participating in the ceremony, maybe waiting for history that didn't
happen, were Laver and the four men he had beaten 40 years ago in each
of the major tournament championships -- Andres Gimeno, Ken Rosewall,
John Newcombe and Tony Roche.
But it was the rambunctious 22-year-old from Mallorca, Spain, who won
his sixth major tournament. Since last June, Nadal has won on the red
clay of Roland Garros at the French Open; on the slippery grass of
Wimbledon; and now the hot and sticky hard courts at Melbourne Park.
Though Sampras won his sixth major tournament in his 25th attempt and
Federer in his 26th, Nadal has only played in his 20th. And Nadal is
the second-youngest man to have won so many Grand Slam titles. Bjorn
Borg was one month past his 22nd birthday; Nadal is 22 years and
After the final point, Federer sat in his chair with his head down.
Federer had lost for the 13th time in his 19 meetings against Nadal,
and Laver consoled a downcast Federer, who usually keeps a tight lid on
This was the first Australian Open five-set final since 1988, when Mats
Wilander beat Australian Pat Cash, and there was hardly a moment when
Nadal wasn't ahead.
He broke Federer's serve in the very first game of the four-hour,
23-minute final. That was Nadal's announcement that he wasn't going to
be intimidated by Federer -- or tired out from his marathon five-set,
five-hour, 14-minute semifinal win over Fernando Verdasco, which
stretched from Friday night into early Saturday morning and turned into
the longest Australian Open match in history.
From the beginning, both Federer and Nadal played high-quality tennis.
There were the sliding, gliding volleys of Federer, but then there were
the cavernous two-handed backhands hit by Nadal, the ones that took up
all the space and left Federer no room to calculate where to unleash
his one-handed backhand, a stroke the strikes quicker than a snake's
tongue, nothing more than a hiss and it's gone.
Would the 13-point game in the third set where Nadal saved three break
points and sent himself sailing into a tiebreak be the touchstone of
the match? Or would it be the 21-point game in the fourth set where
Federer saved five break points to hold serve?
It turned out the match was an accumulation of Federer's
uncharacteristically unsteady serving and Nadal's very characteristic
energy and topspin.
"I thought it was a good match," Federer said. "I had many chances, I missed some, and those cost me dearly."
Federer was speaking particularly of converting only six of 19
break-point chances. He also took note of his 64 unforced errors and
the fact that he only made 52% of his first serves. "I couldn't get a
grove on my serve, which was a pity," Federer said, "but that happens."
Nadal Defeats Federer For Australian Open Title
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
Los Angeles Times welcomes civil dialogue about our stories; you must register with the site to participate. We filter comments for language and adherence to our Terms of Service, but not for factual accuracy. By commenting, you agree to these legal terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.
Having technical problems? Check here for guidance.