Roger Federer’s wife, Mirka, has been ever-present in the stands throughout the Swiss legend’s career, and this year’s Australian Open was no different. A former tennis player herself, Mrs. Federer lives every point her husband plays, with tension, and joy etched across her face at varying moments.
When the review of Rafael Nadal’s challenge of the final shot of the Australian Open final came in, confirming that Federer had hit one last pristine winner to claim the title, Mirka let out a roar just as her husband did on the court.
Federer soon found his way to his wife in order to celebrate his 18th Grand Slam title, one that both may have occasionally doubted would ever come.
Soon after, when the trophy presentations were done, Roger and Mirka were able to meet properly, as the champion walked back towards the waiting rooms to be greeted by his entire team. The two shared a hug and a kiss in a special moment for the couple, celebrating one of the greatest achievements of Federer’s glorious career.
At the grand old age of 35 and after six months out with a knee injury, even the most fervent of Federer fans would probably have admitted that it was very unlikely the Swiss would win an 18th Grand Slam title.
Five long years had passed since he last won a major (Wimbledon 2012) and after several near but yet so far misses in recent times, it seemed certain Federer would have to settle for 17 replica trophies on his mantelpiece.
But the maestro has never been a man to shirk an opportunity when one comes calling or to worry about battling back from adversity, as rare as those moments have been. In 2009, when he one won his one and only French Open crown, he capitalized on Rafael Nadal’s early fourth-round exit to finally win on clay. Albeit, it wasn’t plain sailing.
It has to be said that Federer probably wouldn’t have won in Paris that year if he had had to meet Nadal in the final – given that he had lost three previous Roland Garros finals to Rafa before his triumph over Robin Soderling.
There was an element of good fortune back then and when defending Wimbledon champion Nadal pulled out of the grass-court event that same year, it left Federer an open goal to sweep to another major. Good fortune has often favoured the Swiss and the same fate awaited in Melbourne, too.
Early knockouts for Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic meant that he escaped the World No1 in the quarter-finals and the Serbian in a potential final.
People often knock Federer’s major haul and point to the fact his first seven slams were claimed before Nadal’s ‘time’ and against lesser opponents. There’s an element of truth there but Federer’s a master at controlling the controllables and seizing his moment.
But, it was this unexpected 35th meeting with the 30-year-old – a man who had crushed the Swiss in each of their past four major finals (leading 6-2 in Grand Slam final clashes overall and 23-11 in their overall head-to-head) – which presented Federer with a unique chance to banish the demons and doubters for good.
Given the manner of their lopsided rivalry, it was fitting Federer had to beat the man who had bullied him so many times to truly make the front page of the tennis history book his own.
For me, he had to win this match and an 18th title to be called the greatest ever, giving him virtually unreachable breathing distance between Nadal’s haul of 14 (and Novak Djokovic’s 12).
If Nadal had won, there’s a debate to be had that the Spaniard is right at the top of the list but Federer came through his ultimate history-proving acid test, when age, injury and lack of tennis matches were very much against him.
In Melbourne on Sunday night, he proved once again his attacking tennis and highest level, despite being a few years past his peak, is the best there has ever been.
To pick himself up from an injury time-out and raise his game, after losing the fourth set and a break of serve in the first game of the fifth, was truly breathtaking to watch.
He left it all out there on the Rod Laver Arena court to fight back and level the decider at 3-3 – going for the lines at every opportunity with his famed famous forehand wing.
Federer then rolled back the years, outlasting Nadal on the baseline, by winning a spellbinding 26-shot rally – on his way to eventually breaking to go 5-3 up. He then dug deep to serve it out despite having being 0-30 down and faced break points.
Overall, the Swiss hit 73 winners and won 76 per cent of his first service points, sending down 20 aces in the process – pure vintage Federer.
Given he started this year’s Australian Open as the No17 ranked player, the fact he is the first man to beat four top 10 players en route to a major title since Mats Wilander at the 1982 French Open is testament to his astonishing play. The record books hold heavy weight in his favour now.
Add in two more ingredients, one being the immaculate way he carries himself on and off the court and his much-loved classical style of play, then there can be no argument that he’s the complete tennis package. So what next? The adulation Federer receives everywhere he goes and his love of travelling with his large family, which is rare for a tennis player, suggests he’ll play on for a little while yet.
But, in his post-presentation speech, you could see Federer was truly content with this achievement, one he said he couldn’t quite see coming, and he’d be a happy man if he to had to walk away from the game today.
Federer’s future is in his hands and I’d expect him to play with even more aggression now that the chains of history are off. Dare I say it, he may even sneak another Wimbledon win.
The latest chapter in the storied rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal lived up to fans’ expectations as spectators in Melbourne Park and across the world saw a gladiatorial contest between two of the tennis’ greatest ever players. Federer prevailed in a thrilling contest, 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3, to claim his 18th Grand Slam title.
This was an instant classic. While nothing will top the amazing match these two played in the 2008 Wimbledon final, Sunday’s encounter was a treat to watch, featuring high-quality tennis, some unbelievable shots, and plenty of drama.
Federer and Nadal saved their best until last in a titanic fifth set that lasted over an hour. Nadal broke Federer early in the set, but the Swiss kept chipping away at Nadal’s service games, breaking back to level at 3-3 before dominating Nadal’s next service game to take a 5-3 lead.
When Federer served for the championship, Nadal ensured the drama was not over, forcing two break points which Federer saved with an ace and a brilliant forehand. There was more drama yet to come: on Federer’s second championship point, he whipped a cross-court forehand which seemed to have won the title, but Nadal challenged the call first.
HawkEye’s confirmation that the shot had landed in led to Federer erupting in unbridled joy as he celebrated arguably his greatest triumph, and certainly his unlikeliest.