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Roger And Rafa Return To Game’s Greatest Stage

Serena Williams is the 2017 Australian Open women’s champion after defeating older sister Venus in last night’s final at Melbourne Park. Tonight, it’s another battle of veteran rivals as Roger Federer resumes his Grand Slam rivalry with Spanish great Rafael Nadal.

Men’s Final: #17 Roger Federer (Switzerland) v #9 Rafael Nadal (Spain)

It seemed unthinkable at the start of the Australian Open that the last two men standing would be a pair of thirty-somethings who dominated the Grand Slam scene in the previous decade. With Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray dispatched in the earlier rounds, great rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal grabbed the opportunity to face-off in their first major final since 2009. On that night, Nadal prevailed and finished the night consoling an emotional Federer in scenes that cemented the legacy of their historic battles. But it’s not as if the pair completely disappeared from the rankings. Rafa was ranked no. 1 as recently as 2014, while Roger finished 2015 at no. 2 and reached the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. They arrived in Melbourne this year as the no. 9 (Nadal) and no. 17 (Federer) seeds after injury-interrupted 2016 campaigns.

A rich history of rivalry

From the French Open in 2005 to the US Open in 2010, Federer and Nadal shared a staggering 21 Slam titles between them of the 23 available to win (Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro were the only other winners in that period). But in an era where Federer was the sport’s Superman, Nadal was his Kryptonite. The Spaniard owns a strong 23-11 edge in their matches, including going 6-2 against Federer in their eight Grand Slam finals matches. The last time the pair met in a Grand Slam final was at the 2011 French Open, where Nadal won his sixth title. Federer holds the record for the most men’s Grand Slam singles titles with 17, while a win tonight would be Nadal’s 15th, and would break a tie with Pete Sampras for second all-time. Should Nadal win the title here, he will become the first man in the Open Era to win every Grand Slam title twice or more. Federer did win their last match, on indoor hard courts in Basel in 2015, but their dynamic has always favoured Rafa.

Proven performers over five sets

Federer defeated top-10 players Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka on his way to the final, with the latter two going the distance. Two of Nadal’s matches both went to five sets – his third-round battle with young gun Alexander Zverev before requiring almost five hours to dispatch Grigor Dimitrov in the semis. The Spaniard enjoyed two particularly impressive wins against top-10 players Gael Monfils and Milos Raonic where he gave neither a sniff. It’s worth noting that Federer has enjoyed an extra 24 hours of rest since KO-ing Wawrinka but it could be argued that, with a five-year age gap between the Swiss and Nadal, he needs it. An analysis of their Grand Slam head-to-head matches away from clay reveals that this duo has played six best-of-five set matches on hard courts or grass, and four have gone the distance, one decided in four sets, and just one in straight sets. We’ll be taking Nadal straight up ($1.80 with William Hill) and the +41 game-total ($1.85 with Crownbet).

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