Roger Federer, the god of tennis, returns to Mount Olympus

Swiss genius claims 18th grand slam title in a triumph that will resonate like no other

Even with a defeated and dejected opponent as hugely popular as doe-eyed Rafa Nadal, few in Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena begrudged Roger Federer his record 18th Grand slam title.

It was the gripping final everyone had wanted and the result for which most people had wished, Federer, with ice in his veins, imperiously reclaiming his position as commander and chief of the sport after an epic five sets.

Nadal, five years younger, had not lost to Federer at a Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2007 and Federer had never beaten Nadal in Melbourne Park.

But it was not a day for logic or reason. It was not a day where form or seeding or, in the end, age mattered. It was a day of magical reinvention and transformation, where the greatest player to lift a racquet boldly reclaimed lost ground in a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory.


This triumph resonate like no other. As counter-intuitive as it seemed, Federer was not on anyone’s list to last week one, never mind beguile the tennis world and win the first major championship of the year.

His fortnight began with concern that he would not stand up to the two weeks of competition, having pulled out of tennis last July with a knee injury.

When he took a medical timeout against Stan Wawrinka in the semi-final for treatment to his thigh and another before the final set against Nadal, it seemed then the impossible might just be too much even for someone of Federer's breathless ability.

"It's been a different last six months," he said after receiving the Australian Open trophy from Rod Laver. "I didn't think I was going to make it here.

“I’d like to congratulate Rafa on an amazing comeback. I don’t think either of us believed we’d be in the final of the Australian Open when we were at your academy four or five months ago. But here were stand.

Tough sport

“Tennis is a tough sport – there are no draws. But if there was one, I would have been happy to accept a draw with Rafa tonight, really.”

The six months allowed Federer a period of rejuvenation and he played as though all of the kinks and niggles that follow every professional sportsman around had vanished.

He was also forced to do it the hard way, in the end battling from 3-1 down in the fifth set. His ferociously competitive nature and his willingness to grind is sometimes overlooked by his immaculate hitting and his suite of shots, but grind he did.

He scrapped with Nadal and went into long rallies, a 26-shot exchange in the fifth ended by a Federer forehand winner showing that he could and would go toe to toe from the back court.

But it was the Federer serve that held him in the match all the way through and in the final stanza it was his ability to threaten Nadal’s delivery that kept the Spaniard under sustained pressure.

Nadal’s fetching power and his whipping ground strokes, that only flared up intermittently, ensured the match ebbed and flowed as the pair shared the sets, but Federer’s 6-1 taking of the third sent out a grim message of intent to the Spanish team up in the players’ box.

But Nadal responded to that dip by winning the fourth set 6-3 to propel the match into a fifth and the territory of the epic.

At that point the momentum swung in favour the younger player. Seizing his opportunity, the 30-year-old Nadal went 2-0 ahead with an early service break as the adoring Australian Federer fans fell into silence and the Spanish erupted.

Hardly missed

It was Nadal’s strongest phase of the match as he confidently burned his shots and hardly missed. His aggression levels were higher than at the start and he even hit a few fizzing forehands of old as the fists began to pump.

But the nerveless Federer rode out the pressure, his flat returns and service game pulling him back into contention to win four games in a row against an increasingly dispirited opponent.

Federer broke Nadal’s serve, held to love in the next game, broke Nadal again in the eighth game – requiring five dramatic break points to do so – and found himself in the position of serving for the match.

The final point went to a Hawk-Eye challenge, Nadal standing on the court in hope more than anything. The camera proved it to be a perfect Federer forehand winner that landed plumb on the line.

After three hours and 35 minutes, it was over. The crowd rose and Federer hesitated before his hands too went into the air.

The god of tennis had momentarily turned himself into a disbeliever with the fleetingly doubt that he had actually done it.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times