This Made My Day

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Roger and Rafa: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal embrace at the net after a hard fought five set match in their first grand slam final in six years with Federer prevailing to win his record 18th major at what was a memorable Australian Open. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Australian Open.

On a wonderful day to be alive where two great champions renewed the rivalry down under and went the distance with the King, Roger Federer prevailing in five sets over Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to capture a record 18th grand slam for his first major in five years, this made my day.

A nice tweet exchange between moi and one of my favorite American tennis players, James Blake! ๐Ÿ˜€

Blake will always be an overachiever who overcame a career threatening injury to make a great run in the 2005 U.S. Open. He went all the way to the quarterfinals before losing in an epic five set showdown against American legend Andre Agassi. One played before a raucous atmosphere at Ashe Stadium in a night session in the city that never sleeps. The memorable highlights:

There are some matches you remember more than others. The same applies to any sport. Games that stand out. Plays that do. Or magical points in tennis lure that make it such an underappreciated sport. Whether it was Nadal prevailing over Federer in their third Wimbledon final in a five set epic winning it for the first time 9-7 in the fifth. Or it was Blake and Agassi going toe to toe from the baseline slugging it out shot for shot. Or the memorable Jimmy Connors ’91 run where he was in a similar predicament against Aaron Krickstein. ย The astonishing Novak Djokovic return winner in which he went for broke on championship point to eventually stun Federer at the U.S. Open. Any classic point played between Agassi and Pete Sampras in what will always be my favorite rivalry. Roger and Rafa are right behind even though they’ve given us even more moments.

These are the moments that make sport great. Today in Melbourne, two legends battled it out for over three and a half hours in their first major final since 2011. One is the record holder for majors. Federer is now up to 18. A remarkable achievement considering he missed the last six months due to a knee injury. One in which he needed five sets to win three matches. Nadal, who had been written off at 30 due to the wear and tear- overcoming his own injuries to make a terrific run in beating quality opponents to reach his first slam final in a few years.

Of course, it would go five. Why wouldn’t it? I only wish I could’ve stayed up and watched. But I was tired and will put a few hours in at work later. Just seeing the winning Federer forehand that just edged the line with a challenge review determining that he had finally won again was enough. Seeing the sheer joy and tears at age 35 said it all. The respect each paid to each other during the on court ceremony. Wonderful stuff. Nadal with 14 majors looking like he still might have something left. Maybe he adds to his trophy case in early June at the French Open. Wouldn’t that be something?

Two players in the twilight of their Hall of Fame careers playing in their 30’s and still proving that they have it. Even if it took monumental upsets of co-favorites Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for it to happen, tennis won. Nadal still had to go through emerging German sensation Alex Zverev, flying Frenchman Gael Monfils, big serving Canadian Milos Raonic and reemerging Bulgarianย Gregor Dimitrov in nearly five hours. Federer had to beat pesky Japan star Kei Nishikori in five sets. He did catch a break with Zverev’s older brother Mischa pulling the upset of Murray in the Round of 16. One he took advantage of prevailing in straight sets to set up an All-Swiss battle against Stan Wawrinka. I gotta be honest. I picked Stan in five. I also took Dimitrov in five. I was glad to be proven wrong by both Roger and Rafa.

It says a lot about their character and desire that each needed to go five twice just to make the final. And for Federer to overcome his nemesis after Nadal took set four and was up a break 3-1 in the final set, that tells you how much he wanted it. He had lost the previous four meetings in major finals to Nadal, who got him last time in 2011 at Roland Garros. This was extra special.

I wish I could’ve seen Serena beat Venus the previous night. The Williams sisters have been a symbol of American tennis for the last decade. They have carried the torch. Serena Williams finally passing Steffi Graf for the most grand slam titles (23) in the Open Era with a 6-4, 6-4 win over elder sister Venus Williams. Two women playing great tennis in their mid-30’s. Serena at age 35 with only Margaret Court (24 majors) to catch. Venus, who couldn’t quite win that first Australian Open against her younger sister with the best serve in women’s history. Venus, who has overcome Sjogren’s Syndrome to still play the game she loves and do it competitively by making deep runs. So inspiring.

When it comes down to it, even though I couldn’t see as much of what’s become my favorite tournament as I would’ve liked due to the time difference and my schedule, tennis won. They got two epic finals with four of the greatest players who are all in their 30’s. Something that never happened before.

It’s a huge motivator to anyone out there who feels they can’t do it anymore. You can do whatever you want. Age is just a number. Work at it. Have fun. Live.

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Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.

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