01:26 PM GMT January 29, 2017
Roger Federer made a strong claim for a place at the 2017 ATP Finals when he captured the Australian Open title on Sunday, which represented his 18th Grand Slam championship crown.
He’d been a man on a mission in Melbourne and the dream came true for Federer on Sunday evening as he toppled his great rival, Rafael Nadal, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in the Australian Open final.
“I’m out of words,” said Federer, after receiving the trophy from Rod Laver. “I'd like to congratulate Rafa on an amazing comeback. There are no draws in tennis, but I would have been very happy to accept one and share it with Rafa tonight. The comeback had been perfect as it was,” said the Swiss, who was playing his first tour-level event after a six-month injury lay-off.
All out aggression from Federer proved decisive as he defeated Nadal in a Grand Slam final for just the third time in nine contests. He had lost all three previous battles with the Spaniard at Melbourne Park – including a heartbreaker in the 2009 final – and had not beaten Nadal in a major since 2007. But Federer righted those wrongs with a sublime display on Rod Laver Arena Sunday night, marking his 100th match at the Australian Open in style.
It was an iconic contest and it deserved five sets as Federer prevailed in three hours and 37 minutes in an electric atmosphere on Rod Laver Arena, rallying from a break down in the fifth set to win the last five games. The tears of joy flowed freely for Federer as the electronic review ruled his forehand winner on match point to have caught the line.
It is Federer’s first major title in almost five years, since defeating Andy Murray in the 2012 Wimbledon final. Since then, the Swiss has been forced to watch Novak Djokovic largely dominate the Grand Slams, losing to the Serbian in the 2014 Wimbledon title match and in 2015 in the Wimbledon and US Open finals.
It was remarkable feat for Federer and Nadal to meet across the net in another Grand Slam final – and their 35th battle overall. After their semi-final wins – five-setters against Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov respectively – they both told the story of being too hobbled to play an exhibition match at the opening of Nadal’s academy in Manacor in October, making do instead with sponge balls against junior players.
But sheer will and hard work saw them both find their best level and rise to the occasion in Melbourne, taking advantage of shock week one defeats for Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – to Denis Istomin and Mischa Zverev – to bring about a nostalgic final for tennis enthusiasts.
Indeed, it was only the fifth occasion in the Open Era that a Grand Slam final has been contested by a pair of 30-somethings. The last time it happened was at the 2002 US Open, when 31-year-old Pete Sampras defeated 32-year-old Andre Agassi to win the title in what would be his final ever match.
At 35 years and 174 days, Federer is the oldest Grand Slam champion since Ken Rosewall, who won three major titles in 1970 and ’71 after celebrating his 35th birthday. But it must have seemed a long way off for the Basel native last July, when he was forced to announce that he would be missing the remainder of the 2016 season in order to fully repair his body after undergoing arthroscopic left knee surgery in February.
With wins over Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori and Wawrinka to reach the final, Federer is the second player - after Mats Wilander at 1982 Roland Garros - to win four Top 10 matches en route to a Grand Slam title in the Emirates ATP Rankings Era (since 1973). He is also the first player to win three five-setters en route to a Grand Slam title since Gaston Gaudio at Roland Garros 2004.
He is the third man in history to win five Australian Open titles, adding to his victories in 2004 (d. Safin), 2006 (d. Baghdatis), 2007 (d. Gonzalez) and 2010 (d. Murray). At No. 17 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, he is the lowest ranked Australian Open champion since No. 18 Thomas Johansson won the title in 2002.
But the Swiss right-hander, who spent 302 weeks atop the rankings, is now set to return to the Top 10 at No. 10 on Monday.
For Nadal, he has come a long way from crying in the car on the way back to the hotel after injury forced him out of Roland Garros before he could step on court for his third-round match. He would later call on his 2016 campaign after a second-round defeat in Shanghai in October, not able to continue any more with his wrist the way it was.
The Spanish left-hander is now set to rise to No. 6 in the Emirates ATP Rankings after returning to his best to reach his 21st Grand Slam final (14-7 record).