MELBOURNE • Roger Federer stressed that he had no plans for impending retirement after accomplishing one of the greatest achievements of his career by clinching an 18th Grand Slam title at age 35.
Four and a half years after winning his last Major tennis title at Wimbledon 2012, his long wait for another finally came to an end at the Australian Open with a thrilling five-set victory against his nemesis, Rafael Nadal.
Moments after his victory, Federer provided what some perceived to be a hint that he may call an end to his career this year by citing the possibility that he may not be back in Melbourne in 2018.
"I hope to see you next year," Federer said during his on-court speech. "If not, this was a wonderful run here and I can't be more happy to have won here tonight."
He, however, later clarified that this was not a reference to retirement, rather more an acknowledgement that he is more vulnerable in his mid-thirties to missing a Grand Slam event because of injury problems.
He did not compete at last year's US Open owing to his six-month layoff with a knee problem. He is the second-oldest man to win a major in the Open era, behind Ken Rosewall, who won the 1972 Australian Open at the age of 37.
Federer, who climbs to 10th in the world rankings, had promised to "party like rock stars" after the victory and was bleary eyed when he turned up to yesterday's traditional championship photo shoot in Melbourne.
"Waking up, I don't know if I slept, even if I did sleep," he said. "I had to look at the highlights again to remember how close the match was again."
He added that he was keen to add to his Grand Slam haul and return to the French Open in May, having missed last year's tournament, but expects to fare better on the grass courts of Wimbledon.
He said: "Wimbledon over Roland Garros, yes. On the grass I've got a lot of tournaments there; I play Stuttgart and Halle. So I guess Wimbledon, I know I have a better shot there.
"The US Open, actually, I also think I have a good chance to do well there, but let's enjoy this one first."
He admitted his body needs time to heal. He said: "I am very tired right now. My legs hurt like mad and my back's stiff now too because I didn't take any treatment, plus I was dancing."
Unusually for the Swiss, he took a medical timeout in the final as well as during his five-set semi-final with Stan Wawrinka. He also went five sets with Kei Nishikori in the fourth round.
Although this option is permitted under the rules, it still brought criticism from former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, who described it as "legal cheating".
"They really have to fess up to what the injury is," the Australian said. "You don't just stop a marathon if you're tired. Is it something that really requires medical attention, or is it tiredness?
"If it's tiredness then it's a loss of condition. I cannot stress how bad this has been supervised or looked at by the medical team here in the whole tour. It's wrong, wrong and wrong. It's cheating and it's being allowed. It's legal cheating but it's still not right."
Federer hit back by defending his right to take a timeout and pointed to the fact that he had rarely taken injury breaks during a match throughout his career.
He said: "I felt my quad midway through the second set already, and the groin started to hurt midway through the third set.
"I just told myself, 'The rules are there that you can use them.' I also think we shouldn't be using these rules or abusing the system. I think I've led the way for 20 years. So I think to be critical there is exaggerating. I'm the last guy to call a medical timeout, so I don't know what he (Cash) is talking about."
Despite his achievements, Federer said Sunday's win ranked alongside his 2009 French Open victory, which completed a career Grand Slam and ended a run of three defeats in the final at Roland Garros.
He said: "I think this one will take more time to sink in. When I go back to Switzerland, I'll think, 'Wow'. The magnitude of this match is going to feel different."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS