Mon, Feb 02, 2009 - Page 20 News List

Nadal victorious in epic Open final

FEDERER FOILED Roger Federer’s attempt to equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles was shattered by Rafael Nadal, who had recovered from his titanic semi-final

AFP , MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Rafael Nadal of Spain returns to Switzerland’s Roger Federer during the Australian Open men’s singles final in at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia, yesterday.

PHOTO: EPA

Rafael Nadal won a classic Australian Open final against Roger Federer to secure his first hard-court Grand Slam title and stop the Swiss equaling the all-time Majors record yesterday.

The world No. 1 recovered from his five-hour semi-final with Fernando Verdasco to take the gripping five-setter 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-2 in 4 hours, 23 minutes.

Federer remains on 13 Grand Slams, one behind Pete Sampras, and with an enduring mental block against the Spaniard who has now beaten him in their last three Grand Slam finals.

Nadal, the first Spanish male winner of the tournament, moves to six Grand Slams, increasing his lead at the top of the rankings and earning a shot at sweeping the season’s majors.

Federer sprayed errors in a nervous start and double-faulted on break point before handing over the first set.

He continued to look uncomfortable in the second and he skied a forehand to go a break down, but then broke back and converted the fifth break point in a marathon eighth game.

Nadal saved six break points in the third with some nerveless tennis and he played the perfect tie-break, intercepting a backhand pass with a superb volley to set up three set points.

A switch in tactics brought immediate dividends as Federer swept through the fourth set, but he tightened up in a tense decider and went a break down in the fourth game.

Federer saved two championship points at 5-2 and there was drama when a fan called “out” during a rally, causing the Swiss to stop playing and set up a third.

It was too much for Federer and he drove a forehand long as Nadal collapsed to the floor in delight.

The two were meeting for the first time since last year’s epic Wimbledon final, when Nadal ended Federer’s five-year hold on the trophy before deposing him as world No. 1.

They have now contested seven Grand Slam finals with Nadal holding a 5-2 edge in the meetings and 13-6 overall. But he had his last hard-court win over Federer in 2006 and had never reached a Grand Slam final on the surface.

Nadal was untouchable in the early rounds, but was pushed all the way in a titanic semi-final with Verdasco, that wrapped up at 1:07am on Saturday after a record 5 hours, 14 minutes.

Federer flirted with a shock exit to Tomas Berdych, but then brutally exposed Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Roddick to reach his 18th Grand Slam final, one behind Ivan Lendl’s record.

Earlier, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza became the first Indian pair to win a Grand Slam mixed doubles title when they crushed Andy Ram of Israel and France’s Nathalie Dechy 6-3, 6-1.

It rounded off a successful tournament for India after 16-year-old Yuki Bhambri won the boy’s junior championship on Saturday.

For Bhupathi, yesterday’s victory was his 11th Grand Slam title, while Mirza celebrated her first success at this level.

They started well against Ram and Dechy, breaking Dechy early in the first set.

Ram and Dechy broke back, but the Indians attacked Dechy’s serve later in the set and broke again to take the first set in 28 minutes.

It took two minutes less to wrap up the second set and with it the match as they outplayed their opponents with some perfect doubles.

Bhupathi had a mixed weekend after he lost the men’s doubles final with Mark Knowles on Saturday.

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