Fed­erer on top of the world Down Un­der

In ca­reer of in­cred­i­ble achieve­ments, this Melbourne tri­umph may be best of the lot

The Herald - Herald Sport - - TENNIS - SI­MON CAMBERS

WHAT­EVER hap­pens in the rest of his ca­reer, Roger Fed­erer will never for­get a warm Melbourne night when he con­founded the odds and wrote an ex­tra chap­ter into his ex­tra­or­di­nary his­tory.

His 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 vic­tory over Rafael Nadal, a man who has caused him no end of dis­ap­point­ment in the past, gave him a record 18th grand slam ti­tle – his first for four-and-a-half years – lit­tle short of mirac­u­lous and ar­guably the most amaz­ing mo­ment in his ca­reer.

“The mag­ni­tude of this match is go­ing to feel dif­fer­ent,” an ex­hausted but elated Fed­erer said. “It’s an amaz­ing feel­ing.”

“I can’t com­pare this one to any other one ex­cept for maybe the French Open in 2009. I waited for the French Open, I tried, I fought. I tried again and failed. Even­tu­ally I made it. This feels sim­i­lar. I think it will take some time to sink in. When I go back to Switzer­land, I’ll think, wow.”

This sort of thing shouldn’t hap­pen. At 35, with no match prac­tice for six months as he rested his ail­ing knee, he ar­rived in Melbourne un­sure of what was in store, a rare feel­ing for a man who for so long dom­i­nated the ten­nis world.

But in the back of his mind there was the voice of his long-time coach Sev­erin Luthi, who told him, even when he was fo­cused on re­hab in­stead of ten­nis, that any­thing was pos­si­ble. “He said, you can win the Aus­tralian Open,” Fed­erer said. “I guess he was right.”

In a ca­reer of in­cred­i­ble achieve­ments, from the ca­reer grand slam to five straight Wim­ble­don vic­to­ries and 302 weeks at world No 1, this may just be the best of the lot, not least since Nadal is a man who has dealt him so much pain in the past.

“I couldn’t be hap­pier,” he said. “[Be­fore the start], I would have said a great event would be quar­ters. That was be­fore I had the draw. I went so much fur­ther than I thought I could. Then when you are in the semis and fi­nals, you think maybe it’s pos­si­ble. Then in the fi­nal, I just said, be­lieve, fight and maybe get lucky. I re­ally got lucky tonight.

“I did be­lieve that I had the game and the men­tal and phys­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties to do it again. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but . . . I never lost be­lief.”

Fed­erer had the ad­van­tage of an ex­tra day to re­cover from his semi-fi­nal win over Stan Wawrinka while Nadal had a quick turn­around af­ter an epic, near five-hour semi-fi­nal win over Grigor Dim­itrov.

Though Fed­erer, bat­tling a sore thigh, had more time, Nadal looked a step slower than nor­mal early on, leav­ing some balls he had run down against Dim­itrov.

That en­abled Fed­erer to be­lieve that he could stick to his game-plan of tak­ing the ball early and hit­ting through his back­hand rather than slic­ing it, never al­low­ing him­self to get into those long, bruis­ing ral­lies that Nadal loves so much.

In truth, the first four sets were up and down as first one man and then the other grabbed the as­cen­dancy.

Fed­erer took an in­jury time­out at the end of the fourth set and, with Fed­erer not hav­ing won a fifth set against Nadal since 2007, the odds seemed stacked in the Spa­niard’s favour.

When Nadal broke for 1-0 in the fifth and saved break points to ex­tend his lead to 3-1, even Fed­erer, as he ad­mit­ted, thought it might be over, but he broke back for 3-3, held eas­ily in the fol­low­ing game and broke again for 5-3, de­spite some brave play from Nadal in sav­ing four more break points.

Serv­ing for his first grand slam ti­tle since Wim­ble­don in 2012, Fed­erer fell be­hind 15-40 but saved both break points bril­liantly be­fore forc­ing match point.

His sec­ond serve on match point was ini­tially called out and as he waited for the chal­lenge, Fed­erer won­dered if it might all slip away.

The chal­lenge went in his favour and though Nadal saved the match point, Fed­erer forced an­other and sent an­other fore­hand out of the reach of Nadal.

The ball was called in but there was still time for more drama as Nadal chal­lenged. “I knew the fore­hand was in,” Fed­erer said later, and it was, prompt­ing wild cel­e­bra­tions in his sup­port team, which in­cluded his wife Mirka, and his coaches Luthi and Ivan Lju­bi­cic.

Nadal was proud of his ef­fort, hav­ing re­cov­ered from a wrist in­jury that af­fected him for much of 2016 and forced him to miss Wim­ble­don and the Olympics. “I am with big per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion,” he said.

Pic­ture: PA

NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN: Roger Fed­erer gets his hands on the Aus­tralian Open tro­phy for the fifth time.

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