Roger Federer has beaten Rafael Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 in a memorable Australian Open final. It’s Federer’s fifth major title in Melbourne and a record-extending 18th overall.
Federer, 35, had not won one of tennis’ four majors since Wimbledon 2012 and many felt like another one would never happen. The Swiss icon hadn’t played a competitive tournament since Wimbledon last year because of a knee injury, while Nadal also missed the latter part of the season because of a wrist issue.
It was the final everyone wanted but no one expected – the first time the two legends had faced off in a major since the 2011 French Open final.
Federer entered the match as a slight underdog because he had a 2-6 record against Nadal in slam finals. Nadal has for a long time been Federer’s kryptonite. Indeed, this was Federer’s first win over Nadal in a slam since 2007.
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Federer, who was playing his first Australian Open final since beating Andy Murray in 2010, started brightly and only dropped four points on serve in the entire first set. The 17th seed converted the only break point when Nadal hit a backhand error in the seventh game, before the Swiss maestro served the set out in 34 minutes.
The Spanish clay court legend, who remains level with Pete Sampras on 14 majors, fared much better on Federer’s serve in the second set. So much so, that Nadal got breaks in Federer’s first two service games to take a commanding 4-0 lead. He dropped serve himself in the next game but would settle and go on to level the match.
The third set score-line looked one-sided but Federer was in big trouble in the opening game. He had to dig deep to save three break points with aces before holding in a marathon eight-minute game. Then with some aggressive intent, he broke Nadal for 2-0 in the very next game.
He had three break points to take a 4-0 lead and although Nadal held serve after four deuces, Federer would win the next three games.
Nadal broke first in game four of set four to take a 3-1 lead, featuring a huge inside-in forehand winner from the lefty. But a more breathtaking shot would happen in the next game. Nadal lunged for a remarkable forehand slice crosscourt winner after it appeared Federer’s ripped backhand wasn’t coming back. It brought the crowd to their feet.
Nadal (19-8) had a superior five-set record to Federer (26-20) and the pair had already gotten through two five-setters each in earlier rounds over the fortnight. The most relevant of which was the physically draining five-hour epic win Nadal had over Dimitrov on Friday.
It may well have had a factor in the fifth set. Although Nadal backed up after a similarly draining semi-final win over Fernando Verdasco in 2009 by beating Federer in five sets in the final that year, the Spaniard is eight years older now and doesn’t recover as fast.
Nadal looked a winner when leading 3-1 but faded, losing the last five games in a row. At 3-3 Federer held to love and got the crucial break in game eight, which featured the point of the match. After a long, brutal rally, on a high-stakes point, Federer hit a half-volley forehand down the line winner from the baseline.
The classic encounter had a fitting ending. Nadal came up with some inspirational play to get two break back points when Federer served for the match. But Federer sealed the title with a forehand winner – only confirmed by Hawkeye – before jumping in joy and tearing up as he sat in his chair.
The all-time greats paid tribute to one another post-match, with Nadal saying Federer probably deserved the win a bit more, and Federer saying that if there were draws in tennis he would have been happy to share the final with Nadal.