|Victorious / Roger Federer kisses the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup|
trophy Sunday night after winning the 2017 Australian Open
men's singles championship for his 18th career Grand Slam title.
The Australian Open tennis fortnight down under in Melbourne, which wrapped up over the weekend first with the all-Williams women's final between Serena and Venus (won by Serena) and followed by the renewal of the great men's rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, was a very welcome respite for those of us here in the United States as we came to grips with a narcissistic president, who in his first week in office undermined many fundamental principles that shape our American democracy.
While the talk of Federer's stunning comeback – reaching the AO final after being out six months while recovering from a knee injury that required surgery – Nadal's return from a wrist injury was a welcome one, too. The Federer-Nadal final, which didn't exist on most fan's minds at the beginning of the tournament, left them feeling a bit giddy. Going the distance and playing five sets will do that.
There was a buzz of nostalgia in the air when Federer emerged victorious with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win that was his 18th career Grand Slam title. The Swiss is the all-time men's leader and Nadal, tied with Pete Sampras, is a distant second with 14.
Nadal said it was a special thing for both him and Federer to be playing together in the final of a Grand Slam, especially after a couple of years of having problems.
"I am a positive person (so) I never say never because I worked very hard to be where I am," Nadal said after his almost-five hour semifinal victory over Grigor Dimitrov that began last Friday night and finished in the wee hours of Saturday morning, a day before the Federer match. "I really have been working very hard. ... I always had the confidence that if I am able to win some matches, then anything can happen."
If President Donald Trump thrives on his own culture of self-inflicted conflict and chaos, Nadal thrives on a raw emotion that's filled with clinched fists and screams of "Vamos!" However, unlike the American reality TV host-turn-populist commander in chief, Nadal possesses many fine and likable qualities. He's a positive person, polite, mannered and respectful on court – even in defeat. These are a few attributes our new president could benefit from learning from Nadal.
With the old guard on the rise Sunday night, the AO final marked the ninth time that the 35-year-old Federer – the oldest male finalist in 43 years – and Nadal, 30, played for a Grand Slam title. Before Sunday, Nadal had won six of the previous eight finals meetings. Remarkably, they had not met for a major championship since the 2011 French Open, in which Nadal won his sixth of nine titles at Roland Garros. Nadal has long dominated his lifetime series against Federer, 23-12. Although if you eliminate matches on clay in which Nadal has a huge edge, the series tally is now even, 10-10.
"Being honest, in these kinds of matches I won a lot of times against him. Today he beat me, and I just congratulate him," Nadal said.
As Sunday night's final neared its conclusion, it became evident while studying the body language and facial expressions of both Federer and Nadal that neither wanted to lose. After all, there's joy in winning. With joy, it makes the suffering during big matches so much the better – especially ones that go five sets. Federer went the distance in each of his final three AO matches, Nadal in his last two. In victory or defeat, Nadal always shows an indomitable spirit – and it was on display again for the Rod Laver Arena crowd and a worldwide TV audience to enjoy when he and the always gracious Federer, who are friends off the court and foes on it, met for the 35th time in their storied careers.
Federer was thrilled to be back in the spotlight of another Grand Slam final. "Yeah. It's real now," he said. ... "I never ever in my wildest dreams thought I'd come this far in Australia. But here I am.
"Against Rafa it's always epic. This one means a lot to me because he's caused me problems over the years."
When match point was decided by a replay review that was upheld, Federer pumped his arms above his head and leapt up and down with much delight. Both happy and relieved, emotions poured out of Federer. He admitted afterward that it was an awkward way to win.
"I'm out of words, said Federer, as he addressed Nadal during an on-court interview while clutching the champion's trophy. "I don't think either of us believed we'd be in the final here when we were at your academy five, six months ago. Here we stand in the finals.
"I'm happy for you. I would have been happy to lose to you. The comeback was perfect as it was. It's been a difficult last six months, let's be honest. I wasn't sure I was going to be here, but here I am. This was a wonderful run, and I can't be more happy to win tonight."
Photo: Courtesy of Google Images.