The genius of Nadal

Rafael Nadal's reputation was built by tennis's need. The young Spaniard emerged at a time when the game was desperate for a challenger to Roger Federer, to avoid the men's tour from turning into a one-man show.

Great rivalries are, of course, built on contrast, so Nadal was cast as the physical warrior, the man of passion, supreme strength and iron will to counteract Federer's genius.

All those qualities were on display in Friday's Australian Open semi-final against Fernando Verdasco, as Nadal ground out a marathon five-set victory against one of the hottest players on tour.

But make no mistake, there is genius about Nadal as well.

His manner will never be as effortless as Federer's. Sweating, grunting and fist-pumping are all part of what makes Nadal the player he is.

Yet there are also, with increasing frequency, the kind of jaw-dropping moments that inspire awe in the way Federer has done for years.

One of them arrived at just the right time against Verdasco. As the match approached the two-hour mark neither player had broken serve and Verdasco had taken the first in a tie-break.

At 5-4 to Nadal and deuce, Verdasco sent a low sliced backhand deep into his rival's forehand corner, and drifting away from him. Nadal looked barely able to reach the ball, let alone get it back into play.

However, with three giant strides he ate up ground, and with a flick of the wrist caught the ball an inch from the court, whipped it with sidespin and sent it past Verdasco for an incredible winner.

Verdasco was rattled and moments later the second set belonged to Nadal. It was a major turning point in an epic contest.

Nadal's approach of physicality and extreme topspin on the forehand side may not delight the purists as much as Federer's game, but it is the style of the future.

Perfect timing is needed to brush up the back of the ball with force capable of producing the kind of heavy topspin that kicks off the court and is so tough to handle.

On clay Nadal is virtually impossible to conquer but it is a testament to him and his coach and uncle Toni Nadal that they have sought improvement on all surfaces.

The Wimbledon title last year was a supreme effort and winning a major on a hard court would be an equally impressive feat.

Obviously, the extra day's rest that Federer will enjoy ahead of Sunday's final could be a telling factor, especially as the five hours 14 minutes Nadal spent on court was an Australian Open record.

But if anyone has the resilience to bounce back from physical toil it is Nadal and he should be well recovered by the time he faces tennis's other genius on Sunday.

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