By Bob Stockton
It was a year ago that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played one of the greatest Australian Open finals ever – and provided for one of the most touching moments in tennis in many years.
At the time, Federer was two major singles titles shy of breaking Pete Sampras all-time record of 14. However, the Swiss maestro was showing vulnerability in that he was going to achieve the goal everyone predicted he would reach. In January of 2009, Federer, as some severe critics characterized, was “reeling” by his very high standards. He was fresh off being jolted by Nadal from the No. 1 ranking – a ranking he held without threat for a record 237 straight weeks. The top ranking and the three titles he treasured the most – Wimbledon, the French Open and Olympic men’s singles gold – were all in the possession of Nadal. He lost the Wimbledon final 9-7 in the fifth set to Nadal, lost the French Open final in the second-most lopsided men’s final ever, and the year before he was also humbled by Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals, with the Djokovic camp claiming “the King is dead.”
The 2009 Australian Open final was a bitter pill for Federer. He lost an epic five-setter to the man who was taking away everything he wanted. After his 7–5, 3–6, 7–6(3), 3–6, 6–2 loss to Nadal, Federer could not contain his disappointment and could not compose himself in his post-match runner-up speech. Uncontrollably, he began to cry.
Nadal, showing incredible class and respect for the occasion and for Federer, hugged his biggest rival after receiving the Norman Brookes Trophy as the champion. He acknowledged his rival’s pain.
You know that an event crosses into the main stream of the public consciousness when Don Imus, the controversial American radio talk show, talks about it on his “Imus in the Morning” program on 77 WABC in New York and now on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Fox Business television network. Imus, however, surprisingly did not have kind, mushy words for Federer and his emotions, calling him a “blubbering, cry baby sissy boy” following his loss.” Said Imus of his Federer’s fifth-set effort, “He folded like a cheap lawn chair” and of his runner-up check, “He won $700,000 and he is sobbing like a sissy-boy.” Anyone who listens to Imus knows that his “schtick” is to make fun of just about everyone to get a laugh. The hard-nosed New York audience responds well to his critiques, jabs and barbs. No one is safe, including the great Federer.
Nadal’s effort was one of the best of his career, if not in the entire history of the sport. He won his semifinal match against Fernando Verdasco 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (1), 6-4 in 5:14, the longest match in the history of the Australian Open. Said Imus of Nadal after winning the men’s final and semifinal in a combined time of 9 hours, 37 minutes, “If anyone should be crying, it should be him!”
To view the emotional and touching post-match ceremony from 2009: