Flashback: Nadal’s 2009 AO-winning heroics

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For a player of Rafael Nadal’s stature and silverware success, it is surprising for many that the 17-time Grand Slam champion has only ruled at Melbourne Park once.

Nadal has fallen in three Australian Open finals since conquering the field in 2009: a titanic near six-hour tussle with Novak Djokovic in 2012, overpowered by Stan Wawrinka in 2014, and edged out by Roger Federer in another five-set thriller in 2017.

While we wonder whether Rafa can take another celebratory trademark bite of the Norman Brookes trophy on Sunday night, a flashback a decade ago to Nadal’s title run reminds everybody of his supreme longevity and tenacity.

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Nadal in 2009

Ten years ago Nadal was the top seed, arriving in Melbourne basking in the glory of a fourth successive Roland Garros title and stealing away Federer’s Wimbledon crown in ‘that’ final back in 2008.

The Australian Open field was jam-packed with quality contenders. The ‘Big Four’ led the charge, with the likes of former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Andy Roddick, Juan Martin del Potro, James Blake, David Nalbandian, Robin Soderling and Marat Safin waiting in the wings.

First up Nadal swatted aside Belgian Christophe Rochus 6-0 6-2 6-2;no messing there.

In the second round the Spaniard dismantled Roko Karanusic to the loss of just seven games. Again, pretty emphatic.

Former world No.2 Tommy Haas was next up and faired one game better as Nadal raced into the second week a 6-4 6-2 6-2 victor.

Into the last 16 and 13th seed Fernando Gonzalez headed onto court wielding his firecracker forehand, but he couldn’t assemble the artillery to find a chink in the Nadal armour. 6-3 6-2 6-4 was punched into the scoreboard and the Spaniard still hadn’t dropped a set.

Wily Frenchman Gilles Simon, the sixth seed a decade ago, was prepared for the physicality of facing Nadal.

"I have to run for five hours to win. I have no choice," said Simon, but sadly for his contingent he lasted half that time and the top seed soared into the semifinals with a destructive 6-2 7-5 7-5 scoreline.

Former world No.2 Tommy Haas was next up and faired one game better as Nadal raced into the second week a 6-4 6-2 6-2 victor.

Into the last 16 and 13th seed Fernando Gonzalez headed onto court wielding his firecracker forehand, but he couldn’t assemble the artillery to find a chink in the Nadal armour. 6-3 6-2 6-4 was punched into the scoreboard and the Spaniard still hadn’t dropped a set.

Wily Frenchman Gilles Simon, the sixth seed a decade ago, was prepared for the physicality of facing Nadal.

"I have to run for five hours to win. I have no choice," said Simon, but sadly for his contingent he lasted half that time and the top seed soared into the semifinals with a destructive 6-2 7-5 7-5 scoreline.

MORE: Nadal:'We push each other to the limit'

Yes, Nadal was the reigning Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion, but this was a significant period in his career, at 22 years old the left-hander was seeking his maiden major final on hard courts.

In his way was compatriot and close friend Fernando Verdasco. Unlike Simon, Verdasco – a fellow lefty – possessed the raw power to cause a seismic upset. In total he unleashed a staggering 95 winners in a match oozing with riveting rallies.

Ultimately Nadal made the pivotal breakthrough in the 10th game of the decider to seal a 6-7(4) 6-4 7-6(2) 6-7(1) 6-4 win in five hours 14 minutes to prompt Nadal to lunge over the net to embrace his devastated countryman.
 

"Both of us played unbelievable. I will have this match in my mind for the rest of my life,” declared 14th seed Verdasco after competing in the longest match in Australian Open history (at the time). "It is a pity for Rafa that he had to play such a long match ahead of the final when Roger only played three sets (versus Roddick).

"I want him to be 100 per cent to play in the final. I lost but he is a big friend and I hope he wins on Sunday. I wish him all the best."

How do you top that?

Well, Federer and Nadal walked onto Rod Laver Arena for their 19th encounter and seventh in Grand Slam finals, the Spaniard was leading 12-6 overall and 4-2 in the major finals.

Nadal was the personification of defiance, saving 13 of 19 break points to test Federer’s mental fortitude to the limit.

The 22-year-old simply would not buckle and stormed through the fifth set to lift his sixth Grand Slam.

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Nadal: still a major force in 2019

A tearful Federer struggled to speak in the trophy presentation, destroyed by consecutive final defeats at Wimbledon and Melbourne by the Spanish star.

“I've felt better. Maybe I'll try later. God, it's killing me,” said Federer, before returning to the mic in an iconic AO moment.

Nadal, the first Spaniard to lift the Norman Brookes trophy, told Federer: "Roger, I know exactly how you feel,” said the top seed, having received his latest silverware from Rod Laver.

"Just remember you're a great champion and you're one of the best in history and for sure you're going to match Sampras (14 Slams). To receive this trophy from Rod Laver is a dream for me."

What a final, what a run.

A decade on Nadal has advanced to the final in imperious form winning 18/18 sets. The world No.1 Novak Djokovic is the final obstacle.

Maybe the 2009 champion can draw inspiration from his triumph a decade ago to scribe his name onto the Roll of Honour once again.