Flirty and inviting, Roger Federer's backhand is a thing of beauty. Considered as his weaker wing, it has been brought under severe pressure in the past, more so by Rafael Nadal. In London, at the ATP World Tour finals, it not only withstood the attack from his rivals, but also stood out as the weapon of destruction.
Federer's finesse, embodied by that backhand, polished off Nadal 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 on Sunday as the Swiss captured his fifth season-ending finale.
With Federer versus Nadal booking their place in the final, people came in anticipating another blockbuster Sunday. Every seat in the house was taken. 'London calling' echoed in the arena. The stands were plunged into darkness. The electronic heartbeat lasered on the court, thudded louder, and for longer. The moment was being slowed down, stretched out to add to the drama.
And once the players emerged in a cloud of smoke, the flashlights went beserk.
The match itself lacked the grittiness of the past Nadal-Federer contests. Nadal looked jaded, and Federer majestic.
The Swiss was a speeding dot of red against the blue court. Federer, who has long suffered at the hands of his younger rival by getting drawn into long rallies, kept the points short and sharp. His cross court forehand was firing with pin point precision, but he needed that backhand slice to keep the ball low and Nadal out of his hitting zone.
And it worked like magic, just like everything has for the Swiss this week. When at his best, there are few things in tennis that can match Federer's brilliance. He has an instinct to attack. The feet just about skim the court, he is always at the right place with plenty of time to choose from his tool-kit, and those eyes follow the ball right through.
Nadal took the set 6-3, but the mental edge he always seems to have over Federer, was missing.
The crowd sensed it. In the decider, the world no.1 had no fight left in him. In the divided house, 'Roger' fans roared in anticipation, 'Rafa' fans murmured desperate pleas. Federer ran away with the set, and the only sign of nerves he showed was when he faltered as 'Championship point' scrolled across the terraces. Federer quickly recovered, hooking a forehand into the corner to take victory.
The year came a full circle for Federer. He started the year with the Australian Open, and finished with the season-ending Masters. The city that witnessed Federer's heaviest fall, now saw his leap of faith.
Nadal takes it well
Reuters adds from London: The Spaniard never takes losing lightly but considering how far he has come since leaving London 12 months ago with three defeats and serious questions about his form and fitness, he was clearly not too despondent at playing second fiddle.
"This has been a fantastic year and probably my most emotional," Nadal, who ended an 11-month drought in Monte Carlo in April said on court.