MELBOURNE • Many people thought Roger Federer's Grand Slam title-winning days were behind him, but he defied age and conventional logic to seal his 18th Major championship at the Australian Open yesterday.
The Swiss master, returning from the longest injury break of his career, capped a resurgent fortnight with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over his long-time rival Rafael Nadal to extend his record haul of Major singles titles.
His latest Grand Slam win was perhaps his most surprising, as Federer last won a Major title at Wimbledon in 2012 and because at 35, his best days were considered over.
Yet, he became the second-oldest Major winner in the post-1968 Open era, after Ken Rosewall won the 1972 Australian Open aged 37.
It is an achievement which further strengthens Federer's case to be considered the greatest of all time, especially as he finally vanquished Nadal, his long-time nemesis. Going into yesterday's final, the Spaniard led their head-to-head 23-11 and was undefeated against Federer at a Grand Slam not played on grass.
The victory made Federer the first man in history to win five or more titles at three different Grand Slam events - five in Melbourne, seven at Wimbledon and five at the US Open. His fifth Australian Open triumph was thought improbable in the era ruled by world No. 1 Murray and world No. 2 Novak Djokovic, before the top seeds' early exits opened the door to the title.
Federer was forced to endure a nervous wait for his victory after Nadal unsuccessfully challenged the line call on the second championship point, with Hawk-Eye confirming the Swiss' forehand hit the line. Federer celebrated with tears in his eyes but his first words were for his old friend.
"Tennis is a tough sport, there are no draws in tennis but I would have been happy to accept one tonight and share it with Rafa," he said of a contest where they spent the first four sets winning 110 points each.
" I would have been happy to lose, to be honest, the comeback was as good as it was," he added, referring to six months out with a knee injury. "I hope to see you next year but if not, then it was a wonderful year here and I couldn't be happier tonight."
Nadal, the 2009 champion, was also typically gracious after losing his third Melbourne final at Rod Laver Arena and coming up short in his bid for a 15th Major title.
"It was a great match and I think Roger probably deserved it a little more than me," the 30-year-old said after winning 139 points in total, compared to Federer's 150, and breaking serve four times to his rival's six.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS