Australian Open Final 2017: Roger Federer confirms he’s the greatest
In an Australian Open final billed as the most important match of all time, Roger Federer last night posted a triumph for the ages by conquering his nemesis Rafael Nadal.
For all the glittering highs in Federer’s career, the victory that gave him an 18th grand slam title has claims to being the best of all, with the Swiss overcoming a fifth-set deficit to prevail.
Blazing his backhand against a rival who had exploited frailties in the shot for more than a decade, the Swiss superstar eclipsed Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 in a final lasting 3 hours and 38 minutes.
It was a final that eclipsed expectations, which is phenomenal given the anticipation that preceded it, with Federer crying tears of joy on landing a forehand winner, unsuccessfully challenged by the Spaniard, to take the match.
“I am out of words and Rafa said so many great things, but of course, I want to congratulate Rafa on such an amazing comeback,” he said. “Tennis is a tough sport. There is no draws but if there was one, I would have been happy to have one tonight and share it with Rafa.
“Stay on the tour. Keep playing Rafa, please. Tennis needs you.”
The Swiss superstar hinted at a possible retirement in his final words on the stage.
“We fought like we could. I hope to see you here next year. If not, this was a wonderful run here,” he said.
Nadal, a beaten finalist in Melbourne for the third time, praised Federer. But he feels he is back to his best and vowed to challenge throughout 2017.
“It was amazing the way he is playing after such a long time off the tour. For sure, you have been working very hard,” he said.
“For me, personally, it has been a great month. For the first time in my career, I spent a whole month in Australia … and it was an amazing month for me. It was a great match, but probably Roger deserved it a little bit more than me. I’m just going to keep trying. I feel like I am back at a very high level, so I am going to keep fighting for the whole season.”
The last set was remarkable, perfectly demonstrating why these men are legends. Melbourne is privileged to have hosted an all-time classic. The two champions demonstrated all that is good about sport. Brilliance. Athleticism. Respect. Sportsmanship.
Fittingly, Rod Laver presented Federer with the Sir Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in the stadium named after him.
‘The brave will be rewarded’
Speaking at a press conference after the match, Roger Federer said he convinced himself to “play free” in his five-set victory because “the brave will be rewarded,” writes Will Swanton.
Federer also qualified his post-match comments that invited speculation he may have played at Melbourne Park for the final time, saying he hopes he’ll return but at his age, there’s no guarantee against career-ending injuries.
“I told myself to play free,” Federer said. “That’s what we discussed with (coaches) Ivan (Ljubicic) and Severin (Luthin) before the matches. You play the ball, you don’t play the opponent. Be free in your head, be free in your shots, go for it. The brave will be rewarded here. I didn’t want to go down just making shots, seeing forehands rain down on me from Rafa. I think it was the right decision at the right time. I had opportunities early on in the fifth set to get back on even terms. I could have been left disappointed there and accepted that fact. 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 of the match, which was actually surprising to me. I went through a little bit of a lull in the fourth and the beginning of the fifth set.”
After last year’s knee surgery and six-month rehabilitation, Federer’s victory earned him an 18th major title and almost unbeatable claim to being the greatest player of all time. But Federer said: “That’s the smallest part, to be honest. For me it’s all about the comeback, about an epic match with Rafa again. Doing it here in Australia, that I’m so thankful to (his late coach) Peter Carter and (former coach) Tony Roche. I guess my popularity here, their support, that I can still do it at my age after not having won a slam for almost five years, that’s what I see. The last problem is the slam count. Honestly, it doesn’t matter.”
The match had a rather bizarre finish when Federer awaited the result of a video review. He received the point, celebrated wildly and wept. “I mean, you have to challenge it,” he said. “If you’re Rafa, what other option do you have? Of course, it’s slightly awkward to win this way. Nevertheless, emotions poured out of me. I was incredibly happy, as you can imagine. Then of course, I was also seeing my entire support team, (wife) Mirka, everybody else going bananas. It was cool. I knew from that point on, like, I actually did really win. That was a great feeling. It would have been special regardless of where it was going to be, but this is a tournament I’ve not missed. I’ve not missed the French. I’ve missed the US Open last year. This is the one I guess that is my most consistent slam, potentially. It all started for me here. I played the quallies here in ‘99, the juniors in ‘98. Won my first match, maybe against Michael Chang, here back in 2000. I go way back. Always loved coming here, you know. When you win down here, the journey home is not a problem. When you lose, it’s just brutal. That’s why I feel very fortunate tonight.”
Federer paid tribute to Nadal: “Rafa definitely has been very particular in my career. I think he made me a better player. Him and a couple more players have done the most to do that to me. The way his game stacks up with me, it’s a tricky one. I’ve said that openly. It remains for me the ultimate challenge to play against him. So it’s definitely very special. I said that before the finals – if I were to win against Rafa, it would be super special and very sweet because I haven’t beaten him in a grand slam final for a long, long time now. Last time, I guess, was 2007 at Wimbledon in a five-setter. Now I was able to do it again.
We’re both on a comeback. Like I said on the court, it would have been nice for both of us to win, but there’s no draws in tennis. It’s brutal sometimes. He should be happy. I would have been happy again to be in the finals, like I said on the court. 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. I can’t compare this one to any other one except for maybe the French Open in ‘09. I waited for the French Open, I tried, I fought. I tried again and failed. Eventually I made it. This feels similar.”
Federer told Rod Laver Arena that he hopes to be back but if not, he’s enjoyed the ride. The 35-year-old later said: “I mean, this is about knowing that I have only so much tennis left in me. If I do get injured, maybe if I miss next year, who knows what happens? So it was just a way – you never know when your next grand slam is going to be, if ever. You never know if you’re going to have an opportunity at this stage. I felt I could thank so many people at once. It’s a live audience. It’s a moment for me to be appreciative of them. I’ve had a tough year last year. Three five-setters here are not going to help. I just meant it the way I meant it. There wasn’t something planned behind it, that this is my last Australian Open. I hope can I come back, of course. That’s my hope right now.”
It could prove the defining moment in the argument as to who the greatest player of all time is, a legacy shaping victory, one of courage and brilliance. Federer is now four major titles clear of the Spaniard, who is tied on 14 with American champion Pete Sampras.
He is also the first man to win five or more titles at three different grand slam events, while the seven year wait for another title in Melbourne is the longest wait in the Open era. And he is the oldest man since Ken Rosewall to triumph in a decider. Federer’s victory made it a remarkable weekend for 35-year-olds, for that is also the age of the women’s champion, Serena Williams. She, too, is in the pursuit of history, having closed to within one win of Margaret Court’s grand slam record of 24.
That the pair squared off for the ninth time in a grand slam final is remarkable in itself, given injuries that severely disrupted their seasons in 2016.
Just three months ago, in Nadal’s home town of Mallorca, with Federer in town to help launch the Spaniard’s training academy, the grand men of tennis were too beaten up to play an exhibition. Yet they delivered an epic to close a record-breaking, remarkable Australian Open.
Federer clearly had assessed Nadal’s semi-final against Grigor Dimitrov and noted the Bulgarian’s success when attacking the Spaniard’s serve. Throughout their lopsided head-to-head, the Swiss has tended to chip the backhand. Last night he went on the blast, with great effect in both the first and third set and again in the decider when he came again after dropping serve in the first game.
The first point of the final was quality. Federer thumped a backhand down the line, Nadal defended and ultimately stretched him wide and into error. He held to love. On the second point of Federer’s first service game a familiar pattern began. Nadal continued to whip forehands crosscourt to his rival’s backhand. As he had done for more than a decade.
The match would be decided on how well the 35-year-old could cope with the tactic. A hold to 30. Game on. In a match of swinging momentum, the Federer backhand so often stood up as he dug deeper than ever before to prevail.
Another aspect was also a factor., far more than any of Nadal’s previous rivals, was able to keep his second serve away from the left-handers fearsome forehand. But a great strength of Nadal is his ability to regroup.
He can change strategy and moved forward more on Federer’s serve. He found a solution to the Federer serve and was able to break early in the second, fourth and deciding sets.