Get set for golden age
The Australian Open proved that fans of men's tennis are in for an incredible year, says Mark Petchey.
Last Updated: 04/02/09 12:36pm
Right now people should revel in how great men's tennis is.
The climax to the Australian Open was one of the best finishes I have seen to a Slam and Fernando Verdasco has to take some credit for that for playing an incredible semi-final against Rafael Nadal.
But Sunday's final proved this era belongs to Roger Federer and Rafa, the first Spaniard to win in Melbourne.
It was a magnificent match in which the number of winners outnumbered the unforced errors; to produce that quality of tennis for over four hours in a final speaks volumes about how outstanding these two are.
Enjoy it now because we will have to wait some time after these two have gone to have a rivalry that produces such exceptional tennis and magnificent match-ups.
Rafa's victory underlines his greatness and proves indisputably that he is the world No 1. Having beaten Roger on clay, grass and now on the hard he deserves his place at the top of the pile and is going to be difficult to dislodge this year.
His will to win is just phenomenal and after securing a sixth major title with his fifth straight win over Roger he has the psychological high ground.
Roger had a lot of chances in the final to win the title but Rafa played some remarkable forehands on the run that managed to salvage some unsalvageable situations in most mortal's eyes.
There has been a lot of talk about Roger needing to employ a coach again but to be honest I think that is absolute rubbish; what he needs to do against Rafa in particular is play the big points slightly differently.
This match - just like the 2007 French Open final and last year's Wimbledon final - shows he needs to be more aggressive. He has to decide to take a few more chances on the break points and even if it doesn't come off at least lose it on his terms.
Roger's playing well enough to create opportunities but on the break points - particularly on the outside when Rafa swings it out on his backhand - Roger has to take it back up the line rather than playing too safe.
He also needs to be a little bit more compact on his forehand volley as he missed a few too many in winnable situations and his self-belief suffered.
I don't think these slight adjustments call for a full-time coach but rather a motivator or someone he can bang a few ideas off. The bottom line is that he was one or two points away from winning that final so there isn't any need for him to change too much.
For some time now people have talked about Roger being a shoe-in to eclipse the record of Peter Sampras, who won 14 Grand Slam titles. But the way Rafa is playing you'd have to say he is a certainty to win half of this year's Grand Slams.
In fact, Rafa has a realistic chance of winning all four although the odds are against it because so many things have to go well for that to happen.
Wimbledon will always be his greatest challenge because somebody like Ivo Karlovic is capable of upsetting the apple cart but he enjoyed his best US Open last year so there is no reason why he can't break his duck in New York.
If his body holds up I can see him joining Roger in overtaking Sampras' mark too. I was massively impressed with how he hit his backhand in Melbourne.
There was a lot of talk about how he has changed his forehand and maybe it was a touch flatter at times but the consistency of his backhand was superb; he nailed it nine times out of ten and hit it hard. That for me was the big difference.
At times in the past you felt that if you got him in trouble he was going to hit the ball a little higher but he cracked a few backhands in that final and semi that were very impressive and that ability should enable him to win more matches more easily during the coming year.
Following his success Rafa has called for a shorter season with fewer hard court tournaments - something that would certainly suit his game - but I've always felt that one of the great attractions and benefits and something that sets tennis apart from other sports is its variety: indoors, outdoors, heat, wind, the surfaces being so different at all four slams.
There are obvious concerns about player burnout and injuries as the tour stands right now but I'd rather see more hard court events if only to give Rafa's opponents more of a chance!
I remember John McEnroe saying tongue-in-cheek a few years ago when the issue of equal prize-money came up that the men should take it while they can; the reality right now is that men's tennis is head-and-shoulders above the women's game.
When players like Serena and Williams are in the right mindset and fit and healthy they are almost unstoppable; they make it a bit of a one-woman show.
In contrast, you've got three men who have already proved their mettle in the Grand Slams - Roger, Rafa and Novak Djokovic - and Andy Murray is on the cusp of it.
That's the difference; the women's game has got a lot of great players but not a lot of great champions aside from Venus, Serena and hopefully Maria Sharapova when she is fit again. Let's hope this transition stage ends soon.