Federer beats Nadal in epic final to win Australian open
Roger Federer recovered from a 1-3 deficit in the fifth set against his great rival Rafael Nadal to capture his 18th Grand Slam championship crown and his fifth Australian Open title on Sunday night. Federer, the No. 17 seed, defeated ninth seed and 2009 winner Rafael Nadal, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in three hours and 38 minutes. Throughout, it left the capacity crowd on Rod Laver Arena on the edge of their seats.
The win marks Federer's first Grand Slam championship victory since he beat Andy Murray for the 2012 Wimbledon title. Federer is the first No. 17 seed to capture a Grand Slam championship crown since Pete Sampras, who clinched the 2002 US Open title in his final professional match. The Swiss superstar now 18-10 in major finals, while Nadal is 14-7 lifetime in finals on the biggest stages.
Federer hit 73 winners, including 20 aces, and won 76 per cent of his first service points for victory in three hours and 37 minutes. Nadal, who went 4/17 in break points won, committed 28 unforced errors – 29 fewer than Federer. The Swiss, who returned this year after a six-month injury lay-off, is now 12-23 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
The hyperbole surrounding a final between these two all-time greats did not appear to affect Nadal or Federer in the opening exchanges of their 35th meeting – and fourth on Melbourne soil. Predictably, each player centred their tactics on targeting backhand wings and opening up the court – yet through the first six games there were two love holds. The battle for baseline dominance reached fever pitch at 3-3, when Nadal failed to consistently hit his first serves into court and Federer seized the initiative courtesy of a forehand drive volley for two break points. The pressure mounted on Nadal, the longer the rally went on at 15/40. Ultimately, he struck a crosscourt backhand wide. The Rod Laver Arena, largely pro-Federer, erupted at the first service break of a high-quality opening. Federer consolidated the break with a love hold for a 5-3 advantage and later hit two aces to secure the 34-minute set.
The level of play ratcheted up with Nadal winning six of the first seven points. Federer was drawn to the net by Nadal, whose groundstroke depth rushed the Swiss into error. Nadal earned his first service break when Federer mis-hit a forehand for a 2-0 lead, prior to a testing third game. Nadal led 30/0, but lost the next three points and was forced to save two break points as terrific athleticism and elasticity by 35-year-old Federer belied his age. Trailing 0-4, Federer loosened up and Nadal’s relentless groundstroke length faltered, momentarily. At 30/40, Nadal went all-out on a forehand down the line, but Federer was able to flick a forehand back and into an open court to break. Nadal held his nerve and with two straight love holds, he clinched the set when when Federer struck a forehand long. Game on.
Federer got out of jail in the first game. Having led 40/0, Nadal won five straight points but was ultimately unable to convert three break point opportunities – as Federer struck an ace each time. Having edged through, Federer seized the momentum by breaking Nadal for a 2-0 lead. A sublime backhand half volley down the line at 30/30 did the damage, followed by a deep backhand return that Nadal attempted to run around to hit a forehand into an open court. The Spaniard ran out of time and the pressure further mounted when Federer went on to hold to love for 3-0. At this stage, Federer was zoning on his backhand, quick in his movement to his forehand, and was not allowing Nadal time to recover with a number of drive volley winners. Nadal continued to battle and came through a nine-minute game for 1-3, saving three break points, but emotion, frustration got the better of him and two games later he was broken to 30. Federer then saved two break points to complete a remarkable turnaround, after overcoming the pressure of the opening game, with a backhand drop volley winner. For the first time in his ninth Grand Slam final against Nadal, he led two sets to one.
One mental lapse on an easy forehand at the start of the fourth game cost Federer dear, as Nadal soon wrestled away the momentum. At 15/40, Federer was drawn to the net to retrieve a low backhand but stretched and volleyed into the net. Nadal’s mental strength was undimmed a game later, when he produced a tremendous flicked crosscourt forehand winner – at full stretch – off a fine Federer backhand crosscourt angle for a 4-1 advantage. At the change of ends, Federer applauded after watching the big screen replay. Federer held for 3-5, forcing Nadal to close out the 40-minute set – which he did courtesy of a Federer backhand into the net. Nadal went into the decider knowing he’d won three of their previous five five-setters.
Federer returned after an off-court medical time out to serve first in the decider. The time lapse provided respite, but not for the Swiss who lost the first two points. Under pressure, Federer went after Nadal’s backhand and saved one break point, but a forehand error at 30/40 gifted Nadal the break. Nadal then saved three break points for a big hold that got his coach, Uncle Toni, out of his seat. But Federer, who received on-court treatment on his right thigh at the 1-2 change of ends, wasn’t finished. Federer kept applying the pressure, playing as close to the baseline as he could, and in the next game forced Nadal to rip a backhand crosscourt winner at break point. Although Nadal maintained his break advantage for a 3-1 lead, the match could turn on its head with a moment of brilliance. It did in the sixth game, with Federer levelling the score at 3-3 on his second break point chance when Nadal struck an in-out forehand wide. Nadal showcased terrific mental fortitude at 3-4 when he recovered from 0/40 and saved four break points, but Federer was relentlessly aggressive and controlled the baseline. At the fifth time of asking, the Swiss broke when Nadal was drawn out wide to hit a forehand into the net. With new balls, and some nerves, Federer went on to save two break points and close out his 100th match at Melbourne Park for an emotional - and memorable - 18th Grand Slam championship crown.
To Roger Federer