A few days ago, Star Sports showed the highlights of the 2009 Australian Open and for those who missed that tournament, like I did, even such bits and pieces are like a godsend. So while I was glued on to the television screen, watching Rafael Nadal conquering all odds and crushing the spirits of Fernando Verdasco and Roger Federer en route to clinching his first ever Australian Open trophy, my mind went back to some of the best matches in Melbourne featuring Nadal. Some he won, some he lost – but these matches still stay fresh in our memories.
Many regard the five setter fourth round encounter between Nadal and Hewitt in the 2005 Australian Open as one of their best match-ups. That was undoubtedly superior to the 2004 meeting, but the latter one showcased the glimpses of the genius-in-making to the world. The ‘Wonder Kid from Mallorca’ was already making waves on the clay courts and even though he lost to Hewitt, his unflinching attitude and aggressive play garnered high praise.
4. Rafael Nadal vs Jo Wilfried Tsonga 2008 (Tsonga def Nadal 6-2, 6-3,6-2 in the semi-finals)
Since 2004, Rafa had progressed from a clay-court wonder to a serious challenger on hard courts. He was supposed to sail past Tsonga in the semi-finals without any troubles, to grant us the dream final – Rafa vs Roger Federer (Federer eventually lost to Djokovic in the semis). But Tsonga had other ideas. He completely blew Nadal away, outplaying him in every single aspect of the game. Winners blew past Rafa left and right, and the King of Clay was clueless against the power-packed attacking game of the Frenchman. This match remains Tsonga’s best performance in a Grand Slam.
3. Rafael Nadal vs Novak Djokovic 2012 (Djokovic def Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 in the finals)
Heartbreak, heartbreak and more heartbreak. For the admirers of Rafa, this match turned out exactly the way the 2008 Wimbledon finals and 2009 Australian Open finals affected Roger Federer fans. Excitement, nerve-racking moments, nerve ending rallies, nail biting finish – this longest-ever Grand Slam final was the epitome of a classic match.
After leading the final set with a break, Rafa went on to lose the title in a fashion that reinforced his Novak-phobia. For a lesser player this would’ve been a career-ending defeat, but not for the Muscles from Mallorca. The King of Clay overcame his mental obstacles against Djokovic, and went on to conquer him in the 2012 French Open finals.
2. Rafael Nadal vs Fernando Verdasco in 2009 (Nadal def Verdasco 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 in the semi-finals)
The heartbreak section is over, and now it’s time for the best two matches that will always bring a smile to Rafa followers. Clearly, both matches are from Australian Open 2009, and there is no price for guessing who the winner was!
Nadal was expected to wrap up the semi-final against Verdasco in three or maximum four sets. But the other Spaniard had some different ideas and what happened next elevated this gruelling 5-hour long hard-court battle into one of the best Grand Slam matches ever played. Two unstoppable forces battling it out and retrieving each and everything from the baseline – both Spaniards played their heart out and in the end only a single point separated Nadal and Verdasco.
1. Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer in 2009 (Nadal def Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2 in the finals)
One of the defining moments of Australian Open is the image of Roger Federer, with tears glistening down his face, saying ‘Oh God, it’s killing me’ to the crowd, and his tormentor-in-chief, Nadal, trying to console him. After the epic semi-final match against Verdasco, the King of Clay was supposed to be tired, but he showed immense mental and physical strength to defy the fightback of Federer in the final. This defeat was the final nail in the Roger-Rafa rivalry, sparking the ‘end of the era’ talks about Federer.
These are some of the best matches featuring Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open. What is your favourite match?