Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer in the final of Australian Open 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2. This was the fifth time Federer was defeated by Nadal since start of 2008. Their head to head record now stands at 13-6. In Grand Slam finals it's 6-2.
Lets analyze their matches on each player's favorite surface. Nadal being a spanish player favours clay court (French Open) while Federer likes the grass court (Wimbledon). Out of 8 finals they have played, 4 were at French Open. Out of these 4 finals, none of them was a 5 setter. Nadal won 3 of them in 4 sets and 1 in straight sets. 3 were at Wimbledon. Federer won 1 final in 5 sets and another in 4 sets. Nadal won their memorable 2008 duel in 5 sets. Nadal won this year's Australian Open in 5 sets.
Somehow, Federer is getting frustrated by Rafa's tenacity. Federer's tendency to hit winners is playing to Rafa's strength which is, keeping the ball in play. Rafa, with age on his side, returns almost from anywhere on court. I think Federer is still not comfortable with that fact. Since his game is based on winners not on rallies, he is having tough time against Rafa.
If we consider the style of play, both have their own strengths and weaknesses. However, none of them possess a sure weapon like serve. Pete Sampras and Boris Becker both used to hit ace after ace on grass and hard courts which would give them confidence that they can hold their own serve. Federer has really good serve but his game is not based on that alone. Direct consequence of this is the fact that Rafa has more chances to break Fedrer's serve. In all of their matches, you will find that Break points saved % is in favour of Rafa. If Federer can hold on to his own serve, he definitely has a chance against Rafa.
On top of that Rafa is a left hander. Federer's forehand is returned with a double handed powerful backhand. Although one would argue that Federer has devastating single handed backhand against Rafa's forehand. More importantly, Federer's serve is taken on Forehand by Rafa.
Finally, out of 19 matches they have played against each other, winner of first set has went on to win the match fourteen times. Rafa 10 times and Fed 4 times.(5-2 For Grand Slam Finals) After losing the first set, Rafa has won thrice and Fed has won twice. Maybe, Fed needs to win first set to at least have a chance against Rafa.
Many people think that Federer has a mental block against Rafa. I am pretty confident that that's not the case. Federer has been World No.1 for consecutive 237 weeks. It's very difficult to get to No.1, staying there is even tougher. Fed definitely has got the mental strength.
I think It's more based on their style of play. I think he can beat Rafa by adding new dimension to his game like serve. Once he has a confidence on his own serve and Rafa can't break him, he will surely be more comfortable against him. At least, he can win their battles on grass and hard courts. Pete Sampras has mentioned in his autobiography, A Champion's Mind, that rivalry with Andre Agassi made him work on his game and it improved his game. I feel Fed, being a champion himself, will do the same thing. He will come out even stronger than before.
This debate about them can go on and on. To be honest, I am just a guy in front of a computer pulling up the stats from Internet, watching YouTube videos and staying up late to watch their matches live. I don't have slightest idea what goes on through a Pro's mind in a tennis match. Just being a tennis and Fed fan, made me write this post.
Lets just hope that this rivalry continues so that we can see them competing in grand slam finals for years to come.