Roger Federer added further to his legacy as one of the best to ever pick up a racket by making it 18 grand slam titles in a thrilling five set encounter with his biggest rival Rafael Nadal. He also neared closer to equalling Novak Djokovic’s six titles in Melbourne with his fifth after the 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 victory.
Federer had been the marginal underdog with bookmakers but didn’t look it early, having started well and would hold onto an early break through out to take the first. However, it felt the tide was turning in Nadal’s favour despite the Spaniard dropping the set. Even more so, it seemed Nadal would grind out the victory after an especially sloppy game saw Federer drop serve in the second. Splitting the third and fourth would mean the match would come to a fitting end by going the distance. In doing so, this matchup became the first ever to have gone to 5 sets six times over their careers.
Down 1-3 in the decider, it looked like Federer was done and he would succumb to defeat like so many other times as Nadal pounded his forehand to great success like usual. Federer had other ideas though, eventually breaking back for 3-3 and delivering one of his trademark speedy love holds to take the lead in the final set for the first time. “I kept on fighting. I kept on believing, like I did all match long today, that there was a possibility I could win this match. I think that’s what made me play my best tennis at the very end the match, which was actually surprising to me.” Federer said in regards to his comeback in the match.
Federer errors almost saw him fail to convert a 0-40 position but he would manage to break at the fifth time of asking. Serving out was far from straight forward but he coolly saved two break points before converting match point on his second opportunity. Nadal challenged a Federer forehand winner to dull celebrations momentarily but it would turn out to be incorrect to give Federer a momentous win. While Nadal had played 5 hours on Friday, he made no excuses when it came to the Dimitrov win as a reasoning for his failure to capitalise in the fifth set. “I recovered well. After five hours, is not easy to recover the way that I did. I feel that I was enough recovered.” he said.
Nadal is now four slams off the record set by Federer with this win and will find it very difficult to get any closer now, especially with Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka proving they are capable of winning the title at Roland Garros and weakening the Spaniard’s stranglehold on the competition. It’s impossible to rule anything out for Nadal but his time of being a regular finalist in slams is probably at an end. He is scheduled to next play in Amsterdam, preferring to remain in Europe despite the next big Masters tournaments being at Indian Wells and Miami in March.
Federer will go into Indian Wells a grand slam champion for the first time since 2012, where he won Wimbledon. It’s astonishing to see the Swiss at 35 do this after a lengthy injury lay off although there is no doubt he was aided by the quickening of the Australian Open court beyond the slow-medium that most top tournament courts are these days. Could he go for 19 at Wimbledon? It seems unlikely but after this tournament, it remains the case you can never say never when talking about world class athletes like he and Nadal.