After Wimbledon last year I wrote that the age of Federer was over. Although the Swiss took the U.S. Open to close the season, I'm holding to that. Yesterday's Aussie Open final between Federer and Nadal was the final act of deposition.
Nadal did not have his best day, they were on the fastest court in the majors, and Federer still couldn't win. Nadal has slowly taken away each of Federer's redoubts--his dominance in finals, his dominance on grass, and now his dominance on hard courts. Federer has nowhere left to go, no plausible case to make to himself for how he can beat Nadal. As a measure of how deeply this is weighing on his psyche, look at Federer's first-serve percentage and his return of Nadal's second serves. More than any other facet of the game, those are moments that a player has nearly complete control over. And yesterday Federer was dreadful on both. In the fifth set, he was completely unmanned, spraying the ball all over the court. It was the collapse of a player who is seeing the end--not of a match, but of their career.
That's why Federer cried after the match. He understood that this loss meant that he is in eclipse. And at 22, Nadal will only get better.
So what's next? I honestly don't know how Federer will go on. He'll show up to Roland Garros and get blown off the court again. His window to take another major probably closes altogether at the end of 2010. And for him to win another one, he'll probably need help in the form of someone else sneaking up on Nadal in the other half of the draw.
As for Nadal, he now has as good a chance to win the Grand Slam as anyone since Wilander. And I'd put his chances of beating Sampras's record a little better than Federer's.
1 hour ago