Only four players remain at the Australian Open, only three last names.
First, the women’s final: Venus and Serena Williams, for the ninth time in their careers and the first time since 2009, will square off in a Grand Slam final. Venus, 36, hasn’t reached a Slam final since ’09, and is seeking her eighth major trophy. Serena, on the other hand, is in search of her 23rd — a feat that would give her one more than Steffi Graf for the most in the Open Era. No matter which sister wins, the house they share in Florida will bring home a 30th — 30th! — Grand Slam trophy.
And then comes the men’s final, Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, Round 9. They both needed five sets to win their semifinals, Federer against countryman Stan Wawrinka, Nadal against Grigor Dimitrov, but improbably the sport’s greatest rivals have advanced once more to square off in a Grand Slam final, for the first time since 2011.
If this isn’t the best pair of Grand Slam finals in tennis history, it’s certainly up there.
Consider the hardware between these four 30-somethings. Venus has seven Grand Slams, Nadal is next with 14. Then comes Federer at 17, and Serena at 22. That’s a total of 60 grand slams between them.
And then consider the longevity: Serena won her first US Open in 1999, Venus won her first Wimbledon in 2000. In other words, they have been winning for longer than Tom Brady has even been in the NFL. Federer, meanwhile, won his first Slam in 2004, Nadal in 2005.
The run of dominance these four players have enjoyed is simply unprecedented.
Of course, the other factor that makes these two finals so enticing is the simple fact that, in all likelihood, we’ll never see them again.
Tennis is a young person’s sport, it’s just too hard on the body, and all four players are closing in on retirement. Nadal, the youngest in this group at 30, may have some years left in him still, but his body has taken as much of a beating as anyone, all thanks to his relentlessly defensive game. Both he and Federer have missed extended time with injuries, and while both certainly hoped to make runs at the Australian this year, neither could realistically have imagined a meeting in the Final. (World No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic were both upset in early rounds, which helped, too.)
That Venus is still competing, much less closing in on a title, is a marvel. Six years ago, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that severely impacted her ability to train. As Serena continued to dominate, her older sister looked closer to retirement.
And yet here we are — two vintage matches remaining down under.
In sports we obsess over the slippery concept of Legacy more than just about anything, and there’s plenty on the line if that’s what you’re into.
Federer may have 17 Grand Slams, but Nadal has forever been his kryptonite and could get the better of him yet again. If Federer’s movement around the court is that of a dancer, Nadal has always been something closer to a boxer. This time, as in every other time, Nadal’s counter-punches and tireless retrieving give him the edge.
In their eight previous meetings in Slam Finals, Nadal has won six, and the last five. Federer has only bested him at Wimbledon, and if Nadal again gets the better of him it would mean 15 majors for the Spaniard (only two behind Federer) and a resounding 7-2 record in Grand Slam finals.
For Federer, a win against Nadal would be the storybook ending to his career. After all, it would end his five-match losing streak against Rafa in finals, and give him a win at a Slam final against Nadal not on grass.
On the women’s side of things, Serena has already staked her claim as the best player in history. A win would give her the trophies to make any argument against her fruitless.
After Federer’s semifinal win, he was asked about the possibility of playing Nadal.
“I’m probably his No. 1 fan,” Federer said. “His game is tremendous. I’m happy we’ve had some epic battles over the years.”
Now, we have one more.
No matter what happens in the finals, the 2017 #AusOpen is already the greatest Grand Slam event in tennis history. Period. Enjoy it, folks. pic.twitter.com/TSYJPwTG36
— History of Tennis (@HistoryOfTennis) January 27, 2017
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