The Rafa Roger Show at Australian Open

By Jane Voigt

What tennis fan can forget the day Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer at Wimbledon? It was 2008.

Two rain delays sent players to locker rooms. The fifth set slipped into overtime. Then a Federer forehand thwacked the net cord and fell on his side. The evening closed in on darkness for Roger, as Nadal flopped on his back his white sleeveless t-shirt and pirate pants stained by the pristine lawn of Centre Court Wimbledon.

It took Nadal three Wimbledon finals to wrest the trophy and beloved Centre Court from Federer. But Rafa had tripped up Federer’s quest for infinite fame a year before — 2007. That was last time Roger won a major while Rafa stood across the net. Since then Federer has lost two Roland Garros finals (2007, 2008), the one Wimbledon final (2008), and two Australian Open titles, one in 2009 and one in 2012, which was the last time they met in a slam final.   

And now they will go at it again in the semifinals at Melbourne Park for their 33rd meeting overall. 

The press has goes crazy, per usual, with predictions and analysis. Top tennis writers have painted an encounter somewhat well-balanced, although their head-to-head record is way lopsided — 22-10 — as they all know. Rafa fans will paint their faces and wave Spanish flags. Roger’s fans the same. 

In preparation, Federer should wash his mind clean of Rafael Nadal and the pain he has caused him. All those wiggy missed serves that jumped high to Federer’s backhand. All those cross-court rallies, ball after spinning ball headed to his backhand. Please stop. Out out damn Rafa. At least for a few hours Friday evening in sports’ crazy Melbourne. 

Roger Federer’s drives an inside-out forehand. He must dictate with his forehand to get the upper hand in his semifinal match against Rafael Nadal.
Photo credit Gillian Elliott/

The job of calming Federer’s mind ultimately rests with Federer. His wife, Mirka, plus Coach Severin Luthi, Trainer Pierre Paganini, and Stefan Edberg all play a role, too, of course. Be steely. Be on attack. Don’t let up. If Roger lets up on the gas Rafa’s unrestrained fervor will spill all over Rod Laver Arena’s center court, like water from a broken damn. It will drown Roger.

This is Rafael Nadal. The picture captures The Australian Open’s No. 1 to perfection. There is no one tougher under duress than this champion.
Photo credit Gillian Elliott/

Basically, their games don’t match up. Rafa’s rough and tumble, with enough spin on his balls to make anyone dizzy. Roger is graceful and artistic, with probably the second highest revolutions per second on his shots. Both are the best at reading their opponents movement, angles, and mood. They know the other’s game. They are champions of the highest order. 

Guest Contributor Joe Nardini Jr. tells us his thoughts on Friday’s semifinal between Roger and Rafa. 

Roger is playing some of his best tennis. Better than we’ve seen in a long time. Nadal will use his lefty forehand in familiar patterns, as he has in the past. If Federer wants to win, he must run around Nadal’s shots and hit finishing forehands. That will pin Nadal to his backhand corner. When a short ball comes, the open court will be Federer’s. His forehand must dictate points. He has to serve big and have a huge first-serve percentage.

Nadal also has to have a solid first-serve percentage. He should run around every backhand and whip his forehand right at Federer’s backhand. It is Nadal’s winning pattern.

This semifinal could be one of inches or miles. Rafa could overwhelm Roger, and that would be that. Or Roger could turn the tables and send the Spaniard home to Majorca. More realistically the semifinal will be close.

Roger’s resurgence in 2014 has made him happy and confident. He’s hitting the ball as well as he ever has, as Nardini pointed out. His serve is a weapon, both first and second. His attacking game is honed, loaded, and ready to fire. 

Players have reported that the court surface plays faster than in the past, and that balls are bouncing lower. These play well into Roger’s game. If the weather folks in Melbourne are correct, rain will become part of tonight’s story, too. The roof will close and conditions will favor a fast Federer. 

Rafa, on the other side of the court, is banged up but oh how he likes to suffer for glory. His left palm has a large open blister, which he tapes, along with his fingertips. The feel of his racquet and the effectiveness of his strokes are compromised. Nadal’s service speed has dipped as a result, too. “Nadal’s average first-serve speed against the 22nd-seeded Bulgarian [Grigor Dimitrov] was about 11 M.P.H. slow ever than the 115 M.P.H. first-serve speed he averaged in a 12-ace, one double fault performance against Kei Nishikori in the fourth round,” reported

Nadal admitted that he felt he might lose the racquet when he served. “You are not able to accelerate at the right moment. That’s a terrible feeling,” he told the Australian Open press.

So we have happy and confident Federer versus a passionate and bruised Nadal. We’ll call it even, which gives Federer greater odds than any other time they have played in many years. 

Down The Tee picks Roger Federer to breakthrough his 2-8 head-to-head track record in majors against Nadal in four sets. If that happens, two Swiss men will compete for the 2014 Australian Open men’s singles title. Stanislas Wawrinka defeated Tomas Berdych today. Who knows, their small country might explode with pride or, at least, give both a cow.




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