by Kevin Craig
Roger Federer claimed his 18th major title on Sunday at the Australian Open as he and Rafael Nadal turned back the clock. Federer grabbed the win in an intense five-setter, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
“This one is definitely a milestone in my career, there’s no doubt about it,” Federer said. “Rafa definitely has been very particular in my career. I think he made me a better player. It remains for me the ultimate challenge to play against him.”
With the two men alternating sets, it was never really clear who was going to come out on top until the last point of the match. In the fifth set alone, Nadal was up a break at 3-1 and looked poised to finish the deal, but Federer rattled off the last five games of the match to steal the title from his long-time friend and opponent, earning his fifth Australian Open title.
“I’d like to congratulate Rafa on an amazing comeback,” said Federer, who made an incredible comeback of his own at this year’s Australian Open. “I don’t think either of us believed we’d be in the final of the Australian Open when we were at your academy four or five months ago. But here we stand.”
A straightforward first set saw zero break points in nine out of the 10 games. The one exception to that came in the 3-3 game, as Federer opened up a 15-40 lead on Nadal’s serve and took advantage of his first break point. From there, the Suisse would drop just one break point in his last two service games to take the lead.
In the second set, both players started to get more comfortable in the match. Nadal was able to go up a double break lead early in the set, but Federer fought back to get one of the breaks back, making the score 4-2. Nadal locked it down on his serve after that break, though, holding at love twice to close out the set and even up the match.
Federer bounced back very strongly in the third as he was the one taking a double break lead this time, and he even had chances to win the set 6-0. Nadal did create his opportunities as well, seeing five break points total in the first and last games of the set, but he was unable to convert on any of them, allowing the Suisse to regain the lead.
In the fourth, Nadal settled down and really found his rhythm. He broke early for a 4-1 lead, and didn’t face a break point in the entire set. Just like in the second set, Nadal held at love twice to close out the set and even up the match, forcing a decisive fifth set.
That fifth set saw Nadal jump out to an early 3-1 lead, fighting off four break points in his first two service games. Federer wouldn’t go down that easily, though, as he was finally able to break Nadal and get back on serve at 4-3. In the eighth game of the set, Federer opened up a 0-40 lead with three break points to set himself up to serve for the title.
Nadal incredibly won three points in a row to get back to deuce before Federer would create two more break chances. On the second one, Federer was finally able to convert for the 5-3 lead. There, he fell into a 15-40 hole and it looked like Nadal was going to make a run of his own. That wasn’t the case, though, as Federer won five of the last six points, including the final one on a challenge which gave him the title.
“Tennis is a tough sport. There are no draws. But if there was one, I would have been happy to accept a draw with Rafa tonight,” Federer said during the trophy presentation.
The title for Federer extends his record of major title to 18 over Nadal’s and Pete Sampras’ count of 14, with Novak Djokovic lingering behind at 12. Federer came into the year hoping to win just one more major title, but now he’ll have the confidence to win one or two more throughout the rest of 2017.