Fed­erer tops Nadal in five-set clas­sic

Pawtucket Times - - SPORTS - By JOHN PYE As­so­ci­ated Press

MEL­BOURNE, Aus­tralia — So here was Roger Fed­erer, down a break in the fifth set in a Grand Slam fi­nal. Across the net was his neme­sis, Rafael Nadal, the left-handed Spa­niard he hadn't been able to beat in a ma­jor fi­nal in al­most a decade.

The 35-year-old fa­ther of four was back in his first tourlevel tour­na­ment af­ter six months off let­ting his in­jured left knee re­cover, and he hadn't won any of the big four events in ten­nis since Wim­ble­don 2012. Nadal was re­turn­ing from in­jury, too, and some­how the pair had re­newed the Roger-Rafa ri­valry in a throw­back Aus­tralian Open fi­nal that tran­scended sport.

At that mo­ment, an 18th Grand Slam ti­tle didn't fea­ture in Fed­erer's think­ing.

Don't play the player, he re­minded him­self, just play the ball. At­tack the serve.

With that, Fed­erer re­cov­ered the break, and seized mo­men­tum in a roll of win­ning 10 con­sec­u­tive points that helped pro­pel him to a 64, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win late Sun­day night. His fifth Aus­tralian ti­tle ex­tended his buf­fer to four atop the list of all-time Grand Slam cham­pi­ons. Nadal re­mained tied with Pete Sam­pras in sec­ond place with 14.

“For me it's all about the come­back, about an epic match with Rafa again,” Fed­erer said, “... 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.”

Fed­erer had lost six of the pre­vi­ous eight Grand Slam fi­nals he'd played against Nadal and was 11-23 in their ca­reer meet­ings. His last win over Nadal in a ma­jor fi­nal was at Wim­ble­don in 2007.

“It re­mains for me the ul­ti­mate chal­lenge to play against him,” Fed­erer said. “It's su­per sweet, be­cause I haven't beaten him a Grand Slam fi­nal for a long time now.

“This one means a lot to me be­cause he's caused me prob­lems over the years.”

With big wins come big cel­e­bra­tions, Fed­erer said. “We're go­ing to party like rock stars tonight.”

By win­ning in Mel­bourne, where he first played in 2000 and where he kicked off his long reign at No. 1 with the ti­tle in 2004, he be­came the old­est man since Ken Rose­wall in 1972 to win a slam.

Fed­erer had lost five semi­fi­nals in Aus­tralia since win­ning his pre­vi­ous ti­tle here in 2010. He'd lost three ma­jor fi­nals since win­ning that last Grand Slam in 2012. He hadn't played Nadal in a ma­jor fi­nal since los­ing at the French Open in '11.

Af­ter twice ral­ly­ing from a set down, Nadal was a break up in the fifth but couldn't hang on to be­come the first man in the Open era to win each of the four ma­jors twice. In­stead, Fed­erer be­came the first man in the Open era to win three of Grand Slam events at least five times (7 Wim­ble­don ti­tles, 5 U.S. Opens, 5 Aus­tralian Opens and 1 French Open).

“The mag­ni­tude of this match is go­ing to feel dif­fer­ent. I can't com­pare this one with any other one ex­cept for maybe the French Open in '09,” Fed­erer said. “I waited for the French Open, I tried, I fought. I tried again and failed. Even­tu­ally I made it. This feels sim­i­lar, yeah.”

Three months ago, Fed­erer and Nadal were in the Spa­niard's na­tive Mal­lorca for the open­ing of a ten­nis academy won­der­ing if they'd ever be able to con­tend for ma­jors again.

Yet here they were, the first Grand Slam tour­na­ment of the sea­son, re­new­ing the clas­sic ri­valry that saw them dom­i­nate ten­nis a decade ago.

The long-odds fi­nal — No. 9 against No. 17 — un­folded af­ter six-time cham­pion No­vak Djokovic was up­set by No. 117-ranked De­nis Is­tomin in the sec­ond round and topranked Andy Mur­ray, a five­time los­ing fi­nal­ist in Aus­tralia, went out in the fourth round to 50th-ranked Mischa Zverev.

Fed­erer beat Zverev, and then U.S. Open cham­pion Stan Wawrinka in a five-set, all-Swiss semi­fi­nal. That was the night be­fore Nadal held off Grigor Dim­itrov in an al­most five-hour, five-set semi­fi­nal late Fri­day.

Af­ter four sets of a fi­nal where the mo­men­tum al­ter­nately swung, the fifth had all the ten­sion and drama that these two play­ers are fa­mous for.

Fed­erer had a med­i­cal time out for treat­ment on his up­per right leg and was bro­ken in his first ser­vice game of the de­cid­ing set.

But he ral­lied and put Nadal un­der pres­sure. Nadal saved three break points in the eighth game but lost mo­men­tum again when Fed­erer fin­ished off a 26-shot rally — the long­est of the match — with a fore­hand win­ner down the line.

Fed­erer got the piv­otal break for 5-3, but Nadal made him work for the very last point.

Serv­ing for the match, and af­ter sav­ing two break points, Fed­erer was called for a dou­ble-fault at deuce. He chal­lenged the out call on his sec­ond serve, how­ever, and it was over­turned. Tempo back in his court.

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