Why Federer might have upper hand


If Roger Federer has an ounce of gratitude, he might want to think about sending Rafael Nadal's racket one of those ironic but heartfelt thank-you notes that Jimmy Fallon has made famous.

What began as an innocuous callus on his left hand turned into a gaping wound for Nadal against Grigor Dimitrov in the Australian Open quarterfinals. It eventually produced a pool of blood and, in some minds, represented a potential field-leveler. It remains a painful, performance-impeding blister, all because of the repeated rubbing between Nadal's palm and his Babolat AeroPro Drive.

It was a grisly scene actually, at least in the relatively modest terms of tennis lacerations. Nadal, who is famously focused, was visibly bothered by the discomfort. It didn't help that he was on the court for 3 hours and 37 minutes, during which his gash was re-taped multiple times.

Well it appears that Federer just might (we stress, might) have the upper hand, so to speak, when he meets his longtime nemesis Thursday night in the Australian Open semifinals.

"He's been tough to play against, no doubt," Federer told reporters after his quarterfinal win. "I'm happy I get a chance to play him in a Slam again. I don't remember the last time we played.

"The head-to head record is in his favor. I'm looking forward to speaking to Stefan [Edberg], because when we spoke together, you know, when he came to Dubai and we spoke about the game, we clearly spoke about playing Rafa as well.

"He thought he had some good ideas, so I'm looking forward to what he has to say. Clearly with [coach Severin Luthi], he knows him inside out. I'm looking forward to hear what the boys have to say. We'll prepare. I hope I can get a win. We'll see.

Federer, of course, needs any assistance he can get, considering his dubious history with Nadal. By now you're well aware of their head-to-head numbers:

• Overall: Nadal leads 22-10

• Outdoor hard courts: Nadal leads 7-2

• All Grand Slams: Nadal leads 8-2

• Australian Open: Nadal leads 2-0

So you can see why Federer probably isn't in much of a rush to lend Nadal any of his adhesive tape.

But what we can safely say is that Federer will be in a rush to get to the net when they meet Friday. It has been close to a decade since we've seen him make such a staunch effort to move forward and end points quickly, eschewing the grind-it-out baseline game that has failed him in the past year.

According to ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert, Federer's net game is just one of three reasons he's looking like the player who has 17 Grand Slam titles on his stirring résumé.

"Stefan Edberg has had a huge impact," said Gilbert, who guided Andre Agassi to two Australian Open titles. "As soon as Federer brought him on, it was a new beginning. Edberg was one of the great serve-and-volley players of all time, and he constantly has Federer thinking about closing in and finishing off points at the net."

Against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, Federer was the aggressor from the outset. He channeled his new coach's philosophy almost flawlessly by approaching the net 66 times, winning 49 of those points.

What about that new gear we've heard so much about?

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