This years Shanghai Masters Final pits two best players of the season, and likely of all time, against each other. Federer and Nadal’s comebacks from career derailing injuries, particularly at relatively advanced ages for tennis players, has made this one of the most storied seasons in tennis history.
Both have dominated the tour and the majors, winning at their respective favourite slams, the Swiss winning Wimbledon, and the Spaniard the French Open, as well as bookending the grand slam season with a hard court slam apiece, Roger beating Rafa in the final in Australia, and Rafa sweeping aside all comers last month in New York.
These two all-time greats thrive on hard courts, and tomorrow will be an interesting moment in their rivalry, Federer hitting the ground running in winning the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami at the start of the season, whilst Nadal has taken longer to find his feet, losing in the finals of Australia, Acapulco and Miami, but mostly dominating in his winning runs in New York and Beijing last week.
Although Federer was hindered with a back injury in Montreal and New York, he appears to be fighting fit again, advancing to the final mostly untroubled, but for losing a set against Del Potro in the semis. Nadal’s campaign in the Far-East has been a little more shakey, dropping a set this week and in Beijing last week against ‘Baby Fed’ Grigor Dimitrov, as well as last week saving a match point before defeating Lucas Pouille.
Federer has won all three meetings against his great rival this year, making something of a dent in their lopsided head-to-head record that Nadal leads. Significantly all of these matches have been on hard courts, and what’s more, slow hard courts. His wins against Nadal in Australia, Indian Wells and Miami were all on surfaces traditionally regarded as playing at a medium to slow pace with the balls bouncing high, Nadal often in the past utilising this and his topspin to beat Federer’s backhand into submission. The Swiss has turned the Spaniards strategy on its head, utilising his larger racket and sweet spot to defend successfully on that wing, as well as taking the ball on the rise and down the line, at times doing more damage to Rafa this year with that shot down the line than his much hailed forehand.
Shanghai is generally considered to have quicker hard courts than many of the other events played on that surface, yielding lower bounces, and this should benefit Federer who will look to implement his attacking game and superior serve to good effect. If Dimitrov, an all-court player like the Swiss, albeit with less natural power and an at times suspect backhand can cause Nadal such trouble, Roger who does all these things better ought to outfox his opponent with his superior variety and ability to take away time and rhythm from him.
Winner: Federer in two tight sets