#360view: Aus Open win seals Federer's status as the greatest

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Number 18 for the Swiss legend.

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.

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HIGHLIGHTS: Watch Federer beat Nadal at Australian Open

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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.

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IN PICTURES: Australian Open Final - Federer beats Nadal

Sport360 staff 29/01/2017
Epic: Federer's 18th slam.

Federer and Nadal produced one of the finest contests their rivalry has ever seen but it was the Swiss that prevailed, winning 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 after three hours and 38 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.

It means Federer has secured his fifth Melbourne crown and a first grand slam success since Wimbledon in 2012.

If this was to be the last grand slam duel between this pair, perhaps the two finest players the sport has ever seen, it was more than a fitting finale.

Nadal twice came back from a set down, and then led by a break in the fifth, but Federer drew on all his powers of brilliance to win one of the most unpredictable finals in recent memory.

Federer is now the first man in history to win five or more times at three different major events, and with 18 triumphs he extends his record as the most successful male player of all time.

His victory is also his first over Nadal at a grand slam since the Wimbledon final in 2007.

The 35-year-old’s achievement is all the more remarkable given he arrived here having not played a single official match since Wimbledon, after taking the second half of 2016 off to recover from injury.

Federer had not expected to go past the fourth round but now he is the champion, capping a topsy-turvy tournament with arguably its greatest twist.

“I’m out of words,” an emotional Federer said on court afterwards. “I’d like to congratulate Rafa on an amazing comeback.

“I’m happy for you. I would have been happy to lose too to be honest, the comeback was perfect as it was.

“Tennis is a tough sport. There are no draws but if there was going to be one tonight I would have been happy to share it with Rafa.”

For Nadal, this is the third time he has lost in the Australian Open final, having won here once in 2009, but the 30-year-old has made a resurgence of his own and looks ready to return to his best.

“Congratulations to Roger and all his team,” Nadal said.

“I fight a lot to be where I am today. Today was a great match and probably Roger deserved it a little bit more than me so I’m just gonna keep trying.

“I feel I am back at a very high level. I am gonna keep fighting for the whole season and keep trying to have this trophy with me.”

The first set carried added significance given Federer had beaten Nadal only twice in 35 meetings after losing it, and never at a grand slam.

A ringing mobile phone cut the tension and, after a slow start, Federer began to dial in too, as three booming backhands gave him the break for 4-3 and he served out with an ace to move one set to the good.

Just as Federer assumed control, however, Nadal wrestled it back, breaking once in the second and then again for a 4-0 lead.

He was peppering Federer’s backhand at every opportunity but it was the forehand that was creaking most and Nadal cruised through for one-set all.

Nadal could now smell his opponent’s insecurity and when two more forehands hit the net it seemed the Spaniard was sure to take charge.

Instead, Federer dug deep to hold and after being pinned against the ropes, the Swiss suddenly came out swinging.

He broke Nadal in the very next game, held in 63 seconds and, with his backhand singing, he broke again for 5-1 and swiftly closed out the set.

Bewildered, Nadal had sent three rackets off to be restrung but into the fourth and the momentum swung again.

Perhaps Federer lost concentration because he wafted one short forehand wide, with the court at his mercy, and then framed another into the sky, allowing Nadal to break for 3-0. It was all Nadal needed to send the match to a decider.

Just as he had done in his semi-final against Stan Wawrinka, Federer left the court for a time-out, lasting almost seven minutes, for treatment on his leg.

Nadal had no intention of letting up. He broke in the first game of the fifth before staving off three break points with a series of stinging forehand winners.

Federer had the trainer on to massage his right thigh but he continued to pile the pressure on Nadal’s serve and finally broke back at 3-2 when another backhand ripped cross-court left his opponent powerless to respond.

Back in the driving seat, Federer held for 4-3 with a second-serve ace and then opened up 0-40 on Nadal’s serve when the Spaniard double-faulted.

Nadal battled back to deuce before Federer edged a pulsating 26-point rally, in which almost every shot appeared like a winner.

When a Nadal forehand missed, Federer finally converted his fifth break point, 11th for the set, to move up 5-3 and serve for the match.

Nadal set nerves jangling when he had 0-30 but Federer clawed back to deuce. He had one match point but sent a forehand long before an ace out wide gave Federer a second match point.

He blasted off a forehand winner but before the cheers could start, Nadal challenged the call and the crowd held their breath. The review showed the shot had nicked the line and Federer’s victory was complete.

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