Australian Open final instant analysis

Editor's note: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal squared off for the seventh time in a Grand Slam final, and just like the 2008 Wimbledon finale, it was a match to remember. If you missed a second of this titanic clash, Ravi Ubha provided instant analysis throughout the match.

Fifth set

A time for a look at five-set records -- Federer is 13-11 and Nadal 11-3. Each won his lone five-set affair this fortnight, so something has to give. Ten minutes shy of four hours.

Every point is crucial, and Federer challenges an apparent ace down the middle. He fails, with the ball just in, and it's 15-0.

Nadal misses a chance at 30-0. He can't put away a short forehand. Federer retrieves, and a forehand is long. The ensuing point is replayed, to Nadal's advantage, when a Nadal backhand initially is called wide -- he challenged -- and a service winner comes next. A missed backhand return makes it 1-0 Nadal.

At 15-0, Federer misfires on a forehand for 15-all. A slight opening for Nadal at 15-30 as a backhand slice sails long.

"I don't know how the Spaniard is still on his feet," Courier says.

We get to 30-all, as a difficult backhand pass goes long, and another good serve out wide brings it to game point. A put-away at the net makes it 1-1.

What a retrieval from Nadal. Pulled way wide, he replies with a fierce backhand slice that draws an error. A good time for a fourth race. 30-0. Nadal is up 40-0, and gets his first love game on serve. 2-1 Nadal.

Federer appears to be cruising at 30-0. But hold the phone: A plethora of errors follow, and a backhand into the net gives Nadal the break. 3-1.

How will Nadal reply now? Remember, he blew a break lead in the second.

Well, a good start, as Federer nets a backhand, then is forced to hit a forehand wide. Federer has had eight unforced errors so far this set, compared to three winners. Make that nine, as a forehand misses. 40-0.

Guess what? It's midnight here.

40-15. Nadal couldn't drop serve from here, could he? It's getting tighter. Federer pummels a forehand into the corner for 40-30. Wow. He changes things up, goes down the middle and delivers a service winner. 4-1.

You think Nadal would like another break? You bet.

Federer starts off well, going wide and smacking a forehand. It looks as if he's going for big swings -- another backhand winner follows. And it's 40-0 now. A hold at love. 4-2 Nadal.

Federer steps in and hits a backhand, but it goes long and it's 15-0. A return goes into the bottom of the net, and it's 30-0.

"Body language is so negative from Federer," Courier says. "Nadal still has some gas in the tank, which is incredible."

Another backhand error into the bottom of the net. 40-0. He's a game away, as a backhand slice return sails long. 5-2.

Federer is growing more frustrated. He hits a backhand volley, it's called long, and he challenges after jawing with Maria. Oh my. 0-30 after double-fault No. 6.

Two points away.

"A little tension from Nadal there," Courier says, as Nadal hits a second-serve backhand return long. "Maybe he is human."

Two championship points on another error from Federer -- a forehand long. Federer looks befuddled, but Nadal, almost identical to before, again hits a second-serve return backhand long. 30-40.

Two championship points saved, as a Nadal backhand slice sails wide. Deuce. If Federer holds after this, how would Nadal cope?

A third championship point -- someone in the crowd calls out, but the cross-court backhand was well in.

And there it is. Federer hits a forehand long, and Nadal becomes the first Spaniard to win the Australian Open. 6-2: game, set and match. He crumbles to the turf, then quickly arises and exchanges a warm handshake with Federer.

"One of the most amazing physical and mental efforts you'll ever see," Courier says.

That's Grand Slam No. 6, and Federer must wait to tie Sampras' record.

Sure, Nadal had a day off between the semi and final, but this performance has to be one of the best efforts you'll ever see. What kind of a mental blow is this to Federer? (See below.)

He was beaten on grass by Nadal but might have thought he'd still have him on a hard court. He won't get a better chance to top the world No. 1, yet couldn't take advantage.

Federer won one more point than Nadal -- the break points he missed cost him again, especially in the third set, when he went 0-for-6. When it mattered most, in the fifth set, Nadal conceded only three points on serve.

This one indeed hurts. Federer appears on the verge of tears in the infancy of the awards ceremony. Rod Laver, the only player to win the Grand Slam twice, is nearby and presents the trophies. Federer is up first.

"Hey guys, felt better. Thanks for the support. You guys are unbelievable," Federer says, choking back tears. "This is killing me." Federer can't control his emotions and breaks down altogether, stepping off the podium.

Nadal is subsequently summoned to pick up his winner's trophy. A great moment next: Nadal, with the trophy, gives Federer a hug like a big brother.

Federer resumes his speech, and almost breaks down again.

Nadal's turn.

"First of all, Roger, sorry, for today," he says, calling Federer one of the greatest of all time. "It was an amazing two weeks for me, and see you next year," he finishes.

Suddenly, Nadal is a U.S. Open title away from completing his Grand Slam collection.

Fourth set

"This is magnificent sport," Woodbridge says. He ain't kidding. The duo is living up to the hype so far.

Heading into the fourth set, Federer actually has won one more point, 122 to 121.

"Rafa has come up with the goods" on the big points, Woodbridge adds.

Federer holds comfortably for 1-0.

Federer has to do something different, assuming Nadal holds up, and at 15-0, he runs around to hit a forehand on second serve, smacking a winner. Nadal fails to punish a short ball, and Federer gives it the treatment, flicking a successful backhand pass.

Two break points again, at 15-40. This time, Federer does break for 2-0, sending a forehand into the corner. 2-0 Federer.

Wait, though, before you start to anticipate a fifth set. 15-30. Federer lunges to reach a volley, and we're level. Nadal indeed manufactures a break point, running full tilt and striking a forehand down the line. Indeed, Nadal breaks with another tremendous forehand. 2-1 Federer.

Federer quickly goes on the offensive, picking on another short second serve, 0-15. Federer then gets lucky, as a backhand return clips the top of the net and goes over. Federer offers a quick apology, head down. 15-30 as the next return can't quite get over the net.

Back to 30-all, then 40-30 when a Nadal forehand finds the corner. He holds for 2-2. Another missed opportunity for Federer.

A wild forehand from Federer, and it's 15-0. Federer guesses right when Nadal chases down a drop shot, sending Nadal's reply into an open court. 15-30 on another forehand way long. Two break points for Nadal -- a first volley isn't put away, and it's punished.

A first one saved -- and Federer is ticked. Maria overrules when a ball falls near the line, calling it good. Federer challenges, is proven right, then glances at the ump. The next point, Federer levels a backhand winner for deuce. He pumps himself up.

Federer toys with Nadal on the next point, drawing him in with a drop shot. Nadal gets to it, and Federer can't lob over him -- a backhand, short smash follows, and Federer sends a forehand wide. Game point again, following a winning drop this time. Back to deuce on a double fault.

And Nadal gets break point No. 3.

Nadal has missed a huge chance. Federer comes up with another drop. Nadal gets there but hits wide.

Point of the match by far is next. Nadal scrambles and scoops to stay in the rally, eventually unleashing a forehand down the line. He raises his arms in the air.

Later, another break point, and Nadal blows another opportunity. He gets tied up on a second serve, running around to hit a forehand, and offers a very short reply. Federer punishes it and goes to game point with a vicious backhand.

"Shot after shot is astonishing," Courier says.

Deuce No. 7, and this is turning out to be huge. Federer comes up with a great serve out wide and follows it in, putting away a volley. He eventually holds by serving and volleying. 3-2 Federer.

Will Nadal be ruing those chances?

He might. After winning the first point, Nadal falls behind 15-30, netting a backhand. Back to 30-all with a backhand long.

Both players are serving barely better than 50 percent this set, and that dips after Nadal misses another. He's punished, facing a break point with a forehand error.

Federer indeed breaks when a forehand is mishit. 4-2 Federer.

We're almost certainly headed for a fifth after Federer holds at love. 5-2.

He could be losing the set, but it's perhaps crucial for Nadal to keep serve here. At least he'd start serving in the fifth.

A good start for Nadal, who takes a 30-0 lead. At 40-15, a return goes wide, and it's indeed 5-3 for Federer.

Federer has used the serve out wide almost exclusively when in the deuce court, and executes another beauty that gives Nadal no chance. Federer covers some great ground on the next rally, slicing a forehand into the corner from outside the tram lines. Later, though, he misses a routine slice.

Federer challenges on the next point on an apparent double fault, and good thing he did. The ball was in, and Federer thumps a service winner. 30-15 and almost there. Two set points at 40-15 and a service winner comes. Yes, it was out wide.

6-3, and here comes the fifth.

Third set

Federer took the set despite serving at 37 percent.

How Nadal must have wished he took on Verdasco on Thursday rather than Friday. But he gets a good start to the third, whipping a forehand pass down the line. Now it's 30-0 with another forehand. At 40-30, Federer hits a backhand wide. Nadal 1-0.

Federer gets to 40-0 and lets rip, hitting two straight winners. Nadal misses a chance to get to deuce when his lob falls too short while Federer is stranded. It's given the treatment for 1-1.

A whizzing cross-court backhand catches Federer by surprise, and it's 30-0. A double fault, and an exchange at the net goes Federer's way. Federer hits straight at Nadal, though with little pace. Too much mutual respect for that. It's 30-all. Now to deuce, and Federer is winning this one on points. Nadal has to hang in there. And how about that? A half volley forehand cross-court winner for advantage Nadal.

"Is that confidence or desperation?" Alexander asks.

Deuce No. 2, thanks to a backhand winner. Ooh. Nadal gets lucky on the next point. He goes down the throat. Federer guesses right, but a forehand drifts wide. Nadal vitally holds for 2-1.

Almost the point of the match comes next. Federer chases down a Nadal smash, hits it back. Nadal smashes again, Federer replies again, and forces a drop volley. Federer gets there but nets his effort. 0-15, then 15-all.

Federer eventually holds at 30. 2-2.

Nadal could use a comfortable service game here. But it may not happen. At 15-0, Nadal's heavy top-spin forehand goes long.

Maybe this one is the point of the match. Federer sends a volley into the forehand corner, but Nadal scurries and whacks a forehand cross-court pass. And at such a key point, too. At 40-15, Nadal gives Federer hope with a double fault, Nadal's second of the set. 3-2 on serve.

Nadal asks to see the trainer on the next changeover. He wins the next point, but Federer pulls level and utters, "Come on." A massive blunder by Nadal at 15-all. Nadal rips a cross-court return that Federer somehow gets back. With the whole court open, Nadal nets a backhand slice.

The miss is more costly because Federer hits a wild forehand long.

And here we have the first break point of the set -- but Nadal sends a second-serve backhand return well short, and Federer rips a forehand into the corner. The next rally is way long and ends with a Nadal groundstroke long. Another "come on" emanates from Federer. 3-3.

Nadal could be vulnerable to a break point. And on the first point, Nadal coughs up wide a third double fault of the set. Federer gets lucky at 15-all. A short approach, but Nadal sends a forehand pass long. 15-30.

Oh, boy, a cheap second serve isn't punished -- a backhand goes into the net. Nadal holds, and the trainer arrives. 4-3 Nadal.

It isn't a medical timeout, but Nadal gets his right leg massaged.

"I've never seen him receive a massage on the changeover like we saw, but it's oh-so-understandable," Courier says.

Federer gets up 30-15, and a low slice does the trick again -- 40-15. Federer crushes a forehand into the corner for 4-4.

If Federer wins the third set, you wouldn't get odds of this one going five.

Nadal perhaps goes for too much on the next point, even though he normally doesn't. It's 15-0 on a long cross-court backhand. Federer is gaining momentum, and it's 0-30.

"Surely Nadal would struggle to win in five today," Courier adds.

Now 0-40, after a forehand sails wide.

One saved when a cross-court backhand prompts an error; a second saved with a cross-court forehand; the third saved when a forehand second-serve return is steered into the net.

Nadal gets to game point when he bullies Federer on the baseline, forcing an error.

We're back to deuce on a wonderful rally, culminating with a Nadal backhand into the net. The highlight was Federer getting to a lob, sending back a backhand smash earlier.

Game point for Nadal with a third ace and the first out wide. Boy, did he need that after that long rally. He holds because of a long forehand. Federer has to be ticked at that. 5-4 Nadal.

A good point for Nadal to start -- he pummels a backhand, this time down the line. Nadal will be irked on the next point -- a second-serve return sails long.

He'll be frustrated again. At 30-15, Nadal nets a makeable forehand pass. We get to 5-5.

A brilliant cross-court forehand winner, and it's 0-15; Federer is on the prowl returning again. At 15-all, an extremely short serve is punished, Federer approaches the net and Nadal errs.

Great defense, and Federer gets two more break points thanks to a forehand that does the damage. Boy, Federer gets a look at a backhand pass but nets it cross-court. One more chance. Federer challenges on the next point, as a forehand is called long. Hawk-eye confirms it. Back to deuce.

Nadal challenges next when a backhand is called out, after first being called in. It's unsuccessful, and another break chance. It goes amiss as Nadal bosses the point and crunches a forehand. Federer is 4-for-17 (yikes!) on break points.

Game point, and then he gets unlucky. A good first serve prompts a short reply, Nadal hits it straight at Federer, and a forehand pass follows.

Nadal eventually holds for 6-5, and he's pumped.

Federer quickly gets to 30-0, hitting a deft volley. Nadal rips a return for 30-15. The next call is out on a Federer volley, Nadal challenges and wins.

Oh, boy. Out of nowhere, it's a set point for Nadal after Federer nets a forehand. What can Federer produce? It's a good first serve, and Nadal hits his backhand return wide.

Federer gets to game point by just missing a ripped forehand. Game point, but Nadal rips a clean forehand return winner down the line. Deuce No. 2. A ninth ace, and again, we're a point away from a tiebreak.

Deuce No. 3, Federer missing with a drop shot wide. An unbelievable shot from Federer for game point -- an angled backhand. An ace, and we're into the breaker.


An ominous stat for Nadal fans -- he has lost the past five tiebreaks against Federer.

Federer goes up 1-0 when Nadal misses a makeable forehand down the line. He subsequently mishits the next ball, then produces a drive volley. 2-1 for Federer.

2-2 as Federer hits a backhand wide. 3-2 Nadal, then 3-3 thanks to a great volley from Federer. A wild forehand from Federer, and Nadal gets the mini-break at a key time, 4-3. Nadal pummels a cross-court forehand for 5-3.

Dick Enberg would be proud -- oh, my. Nadal stretches to get a backhand volley into play, and three set points at 6-3 for the Spaniard.

Holy cow, to borrow another line -- a double fault, and Nadal wins the third set.

They've been playing three hours, four minutes.

Second set

Real danger for Federer now. He needs to hold.

"That set has really hurt him mentally," Woodbridge says. "This game is all-too-critical."

And indeed, it's 0-30. Nadal is bossing all the rallies. Federer needs some first serves and gets to 30-all with an ace out wide. Another ace, and it's 1-0 Federer.

It often has been said that Federer misses volleys against Nadal that he doesn't against others, and the first point of the second game is proof -- a forehand volley goes into the net.

Federer stays aggressive, striking a cross-court backhand winning return. 15-all. 40-15, and Federer's body language doesn't look too good -- the head is down between points.

Nadal holds for 1-1 with a cross-court backhand winner. We've seen that before.

A good, comfortable hold for Federer, at love, punctuated with an ace, No. 6. 2-1 Federer.

That serve out wide continues to be effective. Down 15-0, Nadal delivers one more, opening up the court to set up a winning point. 40-15.

"Federer has the lead in the set, but it doesn't feel like it," Courier says.

At 40-30, Federer gets to deuce, sending a looping cross-court forehand, his 11th forehand winner. An opening for Federer, and he takes advantage. Great footwork by Federer. Showing off great footwork, he hits another cross-court winner. Break point.

Lo and behold, it's a first ace -- down the middle, not wide. Great change of strategy. A forehand error brings it to game point. Federer comes forward, hits a volley, and it's called out. He challenges and wins. Replay the point.

That Nadal cross-court backhand is doing plenty of damage, forcing an error. 2-2.

Federer is changing things up, coming in behind a second serve, and hits a good volley that sets up the point. Nadal replies with a backhand down the line. 15-all.

A ninth clean winner off the backhand for Nadal -- do we have to tell you it's cross-court? -- and it's 15-30. Ooh. Nadal just misses with a reaction forehand down the line.

More danger for Federer. He gets a break point when a forehand sails into the net. And there's a break, 4-for-4. Nadal runs around to hit a forehand on a second serve, and, down the middle, it hits the line. Federer's forehand is a mishit that sails way high. (Infield fly rule?) 3-2 Nadal.

This is getting old -- 0-15. Federer's forehand lets him down, going into the net. Not a good time for Nadal's first double fault -- 15-30. But he comes through with another serve out wide that forces an error.

Wow. Nadal sends a forehand into the net for break point.

"An odd game from Rafa here," Courier says.

Well, well, we could have a match now. Nadal donates the game to Federer, sending a forehand long. Federer yells, "Come on." 3-3.

"That last game really shocked me," Courier adds. "[Nadal] didn't force Federer to elevate his game. It's hard to keep up with the momentum here."

It's 30-0, then 30-15. And 30-30.

Courier utters that even if Nadal loses, he'll have inflicted a mental blow on Federer.

Game point for Federer at 40-30. He holds for 4-3.

"It's crazy," Courier says when Nadal thumps a backhand pass down the line, but Federer replies with a backhand down the line of his own.

Nadal is making more errors. With an open court, a cross-court backhand goes into the net.

Courier notes the time, an hour and 34 minutes into the match, and says he sees Nadal favoring his legs. Not a good sign for the Spaniard.

But one break point at 15-40 is saved. Another to come, saved with a good serve out wide that prompts a long backhand. "Vamos," Nadal yells. Deuce.

Break point No. 3 in this game, after a cross-court forehand leaves Nadal with little chance. Another ace on break point. Deuce.

Federer gets another break point, running Nadal around and putting away an easy drive volley at the net. A fist pump ensues.

Nadal isn't afraid to use drop shots at key moments, and he uncorks one to save break point No. 4 of this game. All the more impressive considering it didn't work well against Verdasco.

Game point for Nadal when a Federer backhand sails wide. Nadal is really hitting that forehand heavy to the backhand. Deuce No. 3, as a Nadal backhand sails long.

"This game is becoming ever so critical," Woodbridge says.

Nadal can't buy a first serve at the moment. Federer finally deals a forehand to the backhand side, crushing one cross-court midrally. Break point No. 5 of the game.

And there's the break. Federer comes in behind a backhand, and Nadal nets a cross-court backhand. 5-3 Federer.

Could that be the turning point of the match?

If Federer wins this set, he has to be the favorite. The match is approaching one hour, 45 minutes long, so Nadal has to be feeling it.

"Rafa didn't have the legs to push off and get that one," Courier says, as Federer sends a cross-court forehand that Nadal chooses not to chase.

Two set points, and he needs only the one. A forehand return goes long.

Federer wins the second set 6-3 -- one set all.

First set

Before we begin, a peculiar note -- only once since the Australian Open moved to Melbourne Park in 1988 has a men's final gone the distance. More bizarre, it happened, you guessed it, in 1988, when Mats Wilander topped home hope Pat Cash 8-6 in the fifth. The two took part in an entertaining exhibition this week.

Everyone indeed wants to know about Nadal's fitness, and Todd Woodbridge, working for host network Channel 7, poses the question during the prematch interview. Nadal says it'll be tough to bounce back, adding, "But this is the final of a Grand Slam, and I'll try my best."

Federer acknowledges the history books are on the verge of being rewritten, and says he's looking forward to facing a world No. 1 in a major. That still sounds a little strange.

In the chair is Frenchman Pascal Maria, the same ump who was at the Wimbledon final. Nadal wins the toss and, as usual, elects to receive. Conditions are favorable -- 81 degrees with minimal wind. The roof is open at Rod Laver Arena.

We're off.

Federer begins with a first serve down the middle, winning the point later when a backhand slice sails long. Nadal wins the next point thanks to a Federer mishit and takes a 15-30 lead on a double fault. Federer elects to serve and volley next, though is repelled and backtracks. Another backhand is mishit, and it's two break points. And there's the break. Federer gets fooled and hooks a forehand wide.

Nadal 1-0.

A good start on serve for Nadal. A first serve goes in, and Federer makes another error, this time on the forehand.

But now, an opening for Federer. At 15-all, Nadal goes for a winner down the line on a forehand, but the shot lacks punch. Federer waits and sends a forehand into an open court.

Remember what Nadal did at Wimbledon? He served almost exclusively to Federer's backhand the first three sets. So far, same pattern. 30-all.

Nadal hits a backhand that clips the net and goes long, so break-back chance. Another serve to the backhand, and the return sails into the net. Same thing on the next point.

You already feel this game could be crucial, and it goes back to deuce again when a forehand goes into the net. A Federer unforced error and then a winner, both from the forehand, gives us deuce No. 3.

Federer sends a forehand into the corner for break point No. 2. The net has come into play a few times already, and Federer's backhand hits the top of it and falls on his side. Here's a third break-point chance. And there's the break-back, thanks to a forehand down the line.

"That feels critical," former No. 1 Jim Courier says in the booth for Channel 7.

So what happens next? Nadal levels a cross-court backhand winner.

Federer wins the next four points, producing a first ace in the process. 2-1 Federer.

Nadal was broken only once in the Wimbledon final, and just twice against Verdasco, so Federer should be happy with the start.

An opening ensues for the world No. 2, but the 0-15 advantage is wiped away, and Nadal pushes forward to 40-15, then holds when a backhand return sails long. 2-2.

Nadal builds the perfect point but fails at the last hurdle, sending an easy backhand volley into the net. A step slow?

Maybe not. A cross-court backhand return makes it 15-30. Nadal is missing an opportunity here -- a second-serve return goes way wide. 30-all.

The first challenge comes from Federer, and it's a good one. Nadal smacks a running forehand down the line called in. Hawk-eye disagrees.

A Federer error, and we're at another deuce. Federer's first-serve percentage is 53, probably not good enough. He clubs an ace down the middle to make it 3-2, on serve. Nadal will be ticked with that game.

Federer gets lucky on the opening point of the sixth game. A quasi slice lob beats Nadal at the net, and Federer again is at 15-0 on Nadal's serve. When Federer frames a backhand return, sending it wide, Nadal utters his first "vamos."

Nadal challenges a cross-court forehand that's called out -- he's wrong by one millimeter. Could the tennis gods be with Federer tonight? Nadal should have won this game to love.

Well, on the next point, Federer pummels a forehand winner down the line. Break point yet again. Federer knows a serve to the backhand is coming, and on a second delivery, runs around it and deposits a forehand winner down the line. 4-2.

Federer goes on the offensive and comes in behind two straight serves. The first is an ace. On the second, Federer misses a volley wide. Nadal gets to 30-all with a stunning backhand pass, cutting off a volley. Two breathtaking backhands back-to-back. Nadal seems out of position but hits an angled cross-court backhand winner. Break point.

Oh, my. Federer double faults, and it's 4-3 Federer. After 35 minutes.

If Nadal is tired, he doesn't look like it.

Should we be surprised when Nadal loses the opening point on serve? 0-15.

"Roger just a little irritated," says former Aussie pro John Alexander, who's alongside Courier.

A curling forehand winner makes it 30-15, but Federer replies with a cross-court forehand of his own for 30-all. Two good first serves follow, prompting errors into the net, and it's 4-4.

Crunch time in the set now, and Nadal lets Federer off the hook with a second-serve return long. Ho hum, another Nadal cross-court backhand winner -- after Federer was well out of position, going for an outright winner.

From 40-15 to 40-30. Federer needs a good first serve and produces a service winner to the backhand. 5-4 Federer.

Yet again 0-15, and once more, Nadal should have won the point. Given a short ball, he hits it where Federer is waiting, and a cross-court backhand is the result. Federer misses a chance on the next point, failing to put away a drop shot that wasn't overly short.

A good first serve out wide, and it's game point at 40-15. Good signs from Federer. On a second serve, he goes on the offensive and drills a cross-court backhand. 40-30. 5-5 as Federer nets a backhand.

"Fed is playing with a lot of tension in his body," Channel 7's Roger Rasheed says. (Yes, they have a lot of commentators.)

A great stab volley by Federer -- after he misses the previous volley -- gets us to 15-all. Great tennis so far, and even better when Nadal produces a drop shot for 15-30. Oh, boy. Federer goes for broke with a forehand down the line but misses.

Two break points. And there's the break.

Federer comes in behind nothing, really -- a short forehand -- and a forehand zips past him. He's 3-for-3 on break points, and it's 6-5 Nadal.

Can Nadal win the first point on his serve? Yes. On another forehand-to-backhand exchange, Federer hits into the net. Even on a hard court, the ball bounces way high to Fed's backhand. 30-0 now, two points from the first set.

Federer needs to win this point, and a low slice forces Nadal to err. But two set points follow. The first is saved when Nadal sends a backhand wide. Fed gets a second serve, but Nadal stays alive early in the rally by hitting a squashlike forehand, then deposits a winner into the corner. There's the set in a wonderful 57 minutes.

Nadal wins the first set 7-5.

Stat update: In their previous 18 matches, the loser of the first set has won the match four times.


The big one is back. Finally. Let's hope Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer live up to the heightened expectations.

The gladiators meet for the first time since their Wimbledon epic in July, when Nadal ended the Swiss's five-year reign at the All England Club in a five-set duel that lasted, yes, five hours. The Spaniard somehow kept it together after squandering two match points in a fourth-set tiebreaker and serving second in the decider.

Nadal needs to draw on the resiliency following his semifinal exertions Friday versus countryman Fernando Verdasco. Nadal rallied from a set down to eliminate the go-for-broke fellow lefty in five hours, 14 minutes, the longest singles encounter in Australian Open history, and one of the finest.

Understandably, Nadal didn't conduct the usual prematch news conference Saturday afternoon -- he was in the interview room until 3 a.m. in Saturday's wee hours. Federer did, and quickly brushed off suggestions his younger foe would be too pooped to put up a good fight.

Federer contested his semifinal Thursday, a benefit of the bottom half's initiating proceedings on Day 1.

"OK, he has a day less," Federer said. "But look, you got to be fit and recover from this kind of a match. I think he will. His matches usually take longer than other matches because he takes his time out on the court. I don't think he will be really affected."

If Federer ends his four-match losing streak against Nadal, it will be Grand Slam win No. 14, pulling the 27-year-old level with the men's leader, his pal Pete Sampras. Apart from falling to Nadal in London, Federer erected the white flag in June's French Open final, managing a miserly four games and suffering a dreaded bagel to boot.

The good news for Fed fans? He's triumphed in their previous two hard-court tussles, the last in 2007.

Nadal, into a maiden Grand Slam final on hard courts, is gunning for a sixth major at the age of 22.

Both have dropped two sets en route to the finale, with Nadal spending about two hours more on the court.

"Don't know how I gonna be for the final," Nadal said in his broken, but ever-improving, English. "But for sure, for me is amazing play another final of a Grand Slam."

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.