Photo shows Roger Federer on winning Grand Slam title No. 18
The average sports fan could be forgiven for thinking that they had stepped back in time if they had just tuned in this weekend.
First the Williams sisters battling it out for the women’s title on Saturday, and then Roger Federer rolling back the years to beat Rafael Nadal in five thrilling sets on Sunday.
At 35 years and 174 days, Federer’s 64 36 61 36 63 victory makes him the oldest Grand Slam champion since Ken Rosewall won the title here 45 years ago at the age of 37.
His seven-year wait between titles is the longest ever at the Australian Open, beating the five years that Boris Becker and Andre Agassi had to endure between successes here.
It was almost as though Federer was determined not to be outshone by Serena Williams’ record-setting performance on Saturday.
But while Williams still has legends in front of her, Federer is breaking his own records.
An 18th major title – four ahead of the vanquished Nadal and Pete Sampras – and fifth here in Melbourne, making him the first man to record five titles at three different Grand Slam events.
Federer has been breaking records for longevity for fun this fortnight but one perhaps stands out: this was his 100th match at the Australian Open, making him the first man to run up a century here.
It’s fair to say that this one will be one of the more memorable.
It is perhaps fitting that this title came at the expense of his greatest rival.
Yet also a slight oddity given that Nadal has bested him in 23 of their 34 previous meetings and in 6 of their previous 8 Grand Slam finals.
But this is a different Federer – one who roared back from a break down in the final set to battle past one of the game’s greatest fighters.
“The magnitude of this match is going to feel different,” he said later.
“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, yeah.”
After the momentum swung this way and that in the opening two sets, the pair were level after the first 90 minutes or so.
It was Federer who ramped things up at the beginning of the third, coming through a tough opening game to start the third, before shifting into top gear, peppering Nadal’s court with winners.
He broke the Nadal serve twice, hitting 18 winners on his way to a 2-1 lead.
Nadal, however, is not one to go quietly. Without warning, it was he who was in the ascendency, muscling his way to an early break in the fourth.
He held firm to serve out and force a fifth set, with the winner at this point anybody’s guess.
Things seemed clearer when Nadal broke in the first game of the decider. But Federer hit back in the sixth game to level up and it was anybody’s game again.
A break of serve in the eighth game and the ball was firmly back in Federer’s court. Serving for it at 5-3 up, the Swiss was forced to save more break points as Nadal refused to give in.
But finally, after Hawk-Eye showed that one last forehand had clipped the line, Federer jumped for joy – an 18-time Grand Slam champion.
“I told myself to play free,” he said. “That’s what we discussed with [coaches] Ivan [Ljubicic] and Severin [Luthi] 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.”
As for Nadal, these two weeks have been an overwhelmingly positive experience, even if the end result was not what he would have hoped for.
This was his first major final since Roland Garros in 2014 and his efforts here see him bumped up to No. 6 in the world.
“The only thing that I can do is congratulate him and go back home with very positive feelings for me,” he reflected later.
“If he continues the form he has displayed this week, the tour will have to be wary.
Earlier in the day, Abigail Spears and Juan Sebastian Cabal won the mixed doubles final 62 64 against Sania Mirza and Ivan Dodig.
The pair were the latest set of first-time major winners after Henri Kontinen and John Peers recorded their first Grand Slam triumph in the men’s doubles late on Saturday night, defeating Bob and Mike Bryan 75 75.
By contrast it is 14 years since Federer’s first Grand Slam title – and there have been another 16 in the intervening years.
But, after a four-year wait that will have felt like an age of drought for such an erstwhile champion, this victory will be among the sweetest of them all.