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Roger Federer rewound his career by about ten years to edge out his old rival Rafael Nadal in a sensational Australian Open final to take his eighteenth Grand Slam title at 35.
A championship climax that lived up to all its extravagant billing ended with Federer winning 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 in three hours and 38 minutes after dramatically turning round the fifth set from a break down.
In a match that had echoes of their incredible Wimbledon final of 2008 – in terms of sheer theatre if with a different outcome – he came back from 3-1 down to reel off the last five games.
An elated Federer afterwards paid tribute to his opponent saying, ‘Tennis is a tough sport, there are no draws but if there were I would have been happy to share it with Rafa.
‘When we saw each other four or five months ago (at Nadal’s academy) we never believed we could be in the finals. I’m very happy for you, I would have been happy to lose.
‘I work hard but try not to shout about it. It has been a different last six months and I wasn’t sure I would make it here.’
Nadal said: ‘Congrats to Roger, it’s amazing how he is playing without being on the tour. It has been a great month for me, I really enjoyed it.’
A tearful, disbelieving Federer won it on a second match point when serving for it after breaking for 5-3 in one of the finest games these two have ever played against each other.
Getting back from two break points down he put a forehand long on his first match point and then on the second had an agonising wait of around 20 seconds while he challenged the linesman’s call, who had adjudged his angled forehand to have missed the line.
Hawk_Eye reversed the call – an irony as Federer has taken a lot of convincing about the system – and he raised his arms aloft in victory.
The two prime heavyweights of modern tennis had slugged it out in a glorious, undulating contest that was so tight at the end of the fourth set that they were both on exactly 110 points each.
Once again, to everyone’s surprise at this stage of a Slam, the exquisite Federer backhand met the methodically clubbed forehand of the Mallorcan, and neither disappointed, with the former just edging it.
Federer came in the more rested, arguably too rested with two days to contemplate this match. He was fighting an 11-23 record vs Nadal, which included defeats in their last five Grand Slam meetings.
Although Nadal had finished his semi-final 24 hours later it was Federer who looked slightly stiff in the early exchanges, before seeming to find his rhythm in the sixth game.
He then broke for 4-3 when he made Nadal reach for a backhand that sailed wide. The break was consolidated with an excellent service game that augured well for him, as big serving night was non-negotiable.
At the start of the second Nadal signalled that he would revert more to his stock tactic of booming topspun forehands to his opponent’s backhand and it paid dividends when the Swiss netted a backhand on break point.