Former world No1 Roger Federer toasted one of the most memorable wins of his glittering career after he defeated old foe Rafael Nadal in a gladiatorial Australian Open finale on Sunday.
Federer’s 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Nadal in their ninth grand slam final brought the 35-year-old a record-extending 18th major title and a first since 2012.
It also crowned an extraordinary return to the top for a player widely rated the best of all time, but whose imperious days looked behind him when injury forced him out for the second half of last year.
Federer, who until arriving in Melbourne had not played a competitive match since Wimbledon, compared his satisfaction with that of completing the career grand slam at Roland Garros eight years ago.
“I think this one will take more time to sink in. The magnitude of this match is going to feel different,” he said.
“I can’t compare this 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.
“For me it’s all about the comeback; about an epic match with Rafa again; doing it here in Australia; that I can still do it at my age after not having won a slam for almost five years.”
Federer’s fifth Australian Open win was his first since 2010 and extended his lead in the all-time list of grand slams. Nadal, 30, and Pete Sampras both trail by four on 14 titles.
It also saw the Swiss become the oldest man to win a major tournament since 1972, when Ken Rosewall won in Melbourne aged 37, and followed 35-year-old Serena Williams’ success in the women’s final on Saturday.
Federer had lost his last six grand slam matches against Nadal, and all three of their previous meetings at this event, and paid tribute to the Spaniard for a typically gutsy challenge.
“There are no draws in tennis but I would have been happy to accept one tonight and share it with Rafa,” he said.
Nadal, who twice fought back from a set down to force a decider, drew comfort from his best performance at a grand slam for three years, having battled his own career-threatening injury problems.
“Roger probably deserved it a little more,” he said. “I played a great quality of tennis. That’s great news for me. I believe that if I have my body in the right condition, I can have a great year.”