In marathon match, Federer ends five-year title drought

Author
AAP,
Section
Tennis,
Publish Date
Monday, 30 January 2017, 6:38AM
Federer takes his victory lap (Getty Images)
Federer takes his victory lap (Getty Images)

Ending all arguments, vintage Roger Federer has denied Rafael Nadal in a riveting, rollercoaster Australian Open final to become the oldest men's grand slam champion in 45 years.

Defying Father Time and Nadal's decade-long dominance of one of sport's most enduring rivalries, Federer's captivating 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 victory on Sunday night broke his five-year major title drought.

The 35-year-old's extraordinary triumph - from a service break down in the deciding set and in his first tournament back after six months out to rehabilitate his surgically repaired left knee - earned the mighty Swiss a fifth Open crown and an incredible 18th slam.

Pulling four clear of Nadal and Pete Sampras on the all-time grand slam title leaderboard, Federer's most improbable revival emphatically confirms his status as the sport's greatest modern-day player.

In matching Jack Nicklaus's magical 18 golf majors at an age most are long retired and his peers are at the peak of their own powers, the incomparable father of four also staked his own claim as possibly the greatest athlete of all time.

He's undoubtedly the Pele, Ali, Nicklaus, Jordan or Bolt of tennis after crowning his spectacular comeback with his first grand slam win over Nadal since Wimbledon 2007.

Turning 36 in August, Federer is the oldest man to land a slam since Ken Rosewall won the 1972 Australian Open at 37.

His seven-year wait between his fourth and fifth Melbourne Park successes was also the longest in almost half a century of open-era tennis.

"I'm out of words," Federer said.

"I'd like to congratulate Rafa on an amazing comeback.

"I don't think we both - either one of us - believed we would be in the finals in Australia when we saw each other at your academy sort of four, five months ago.

"Here we stand in the finals. I'm happy for you. I would have been happy to lose too, to be honest. A comeback was perfect as it was.

"Tennis is a tough sport. There's no draws but, if there was going to be one, I would have been very happy to accept a draw tonight and share it with Rafa, really."

The classic rematch of their five-set final in Melbourne in 2009, won by Nadal, was the 35th instalment of their epic career series and ninth on one of tennis's four biggest stages - but first in six years.

Officials took the unprecedented step of opening up Margaret Court Arena and telecasting the showstopper final on a big screen inside the 7500-seat stadium.

The two legends didn't disappoint, Federer surviving a medical time-out before the deciding set and then, a 2-0 deficit, to prevail on his second championship point after three hours and 38 tension-filled minutes.

Contesting his milestone 100th Open match and record 28th grand slam final, Federer had struck the first blow, breaking Nadal in the seventh game with some aggressive net play and a pair of devastating backhand winners.

Dropping just four points all set, Federer clinched the opener with his fourth ace for a confident love hold.

Typically, Nadal hit straight back.

Raising his game and cashing in on some nervy errors from Federer, the Spaniard stormed to a 4-0 lead before drawing level at a set apiece.
But, despite conceding five years in the match-up and carrying the psychological wounds of 23 previous defeats to his Spanish nemesis, Federer refused to fold.

The superstar Swiss surged through the third set, only for Nadal - not for the first time - to rally to force the decider as Federer's ageing body began to fatigue.

Federer required a medical time-out for treatment for an upper leg issue he'd complained about during his five-set semi-final win over countryman Stan Wawrinka.

The writing appeared on the wall when he dropped serve in the opening game of the fifth set.

But after vowing "to leave it all out there" in the final, Federer did just that, roaring back to break Nadal in the sixth game, then again in the eighth before serving out the epic in dramatic fashion.

Federer's forehand on his second match point was called out but, after enduring a torturous 15-second wait, his successful challenge was met with a rousing standing ovation inside Rod Laver Arena.

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