About six months back, Roger Federer announced his withdrawal from French Open and after his semifinal loss to Milos Raonic at Wimbledon, he stopped playing altogether. He didn’t go to Rio Olympics and announced he would make a fresh start from the 2017 season. At Australian Open, Federer proved he was completely match-fit by winning some tough matches before entering the final. His age-old opponent Rafael Nadal was also coming back from host of other ailments. The Spaniard, however, credited himself by winning the men’s doubles gold at Rio. Coming through their rounds from either half of Australian Open draws; they faced each other in Sunday’s epic title game and played the 35th match of their famous rivalry. After two sets were shared between them, it was anybody’s match. When Nadal broke Federer in the opening game, he looked like cruising to his 15th Grand Slam title. But the Swiss Maestro made another comeback by forcing a break back to level at 3-3 and another in 8th, before serving for not just his sixth Australian Open title but his illustrious career’s 18th Grand Slam.
2017 Australian Open couldn’t have ended on a more exciting note. The whole world was witness to a thrilling title-duel between Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Spain’s Rafael Nadal. The last time, these two met in a Grand Slam final was at 2011 French Open, when Nadal recorded his sixth win at Roland Garros. The intervening 6 years have seen both players suffering ups-and-downs in their careers. On Sunday, however, it was difficult to predict the winner, when scores were level after four sets.
Federer made a slow start in first set with Nadal engaging him in long rallies. The astute Spaniard targeted Federer’s backhand but at 4-4, Federer broke Nadal on his first opportunity and went 5-4 up. He came back to serve out the set next. Not to be outdone, Nadal roared back in second set and broke Federer for an early 2-0 lead. In third game, Federer had two chances for a break-back but Nadal fought hard to deny Federer. After holding his service, Nadal broke Federer again to lead 4-0. Though, the Swiss snatched one break back, he couldn’t stop his opponent from leveling the set scores.
Federer raced to a 40-0 lead in the opening game of the third set but squandered everything as Nadal fought back to bring the score to deuce. Federer’s game was coming apart and the doughty Spaniard showed his famous fighting skills. He forced Federer to yield a break point but somehow Federer saved it. The drama of the 10-minute game finally ended with Federer coming out of a hole of his own making and led 1-0. After that relief, Federer broke Nadal in second and fourth games for a 4-0 lead. Some brilliant shot-making from Federer gave him the set. But fluctuations continued in fourth set and this time it was Nadal, who dictated terms. He kept winning on his serve after breaking Federer in fourth game and by holding his serve in the fifth. With Federer unable to find any break later, the fourth set went to Nadal and the decider was on.
Before the final set, Federer took a medical time out but when he came back, he lost his opening service game and Nadal held his, to make it 2-0 at the start. Federer still appeared to be struggling but held his service in the third game. The fourth service game took Nadal to 3-1 in the final set and the Spaniard looked like heading for victory. But all of a sudden, Federer came up with sparks of brilliance. At 1-3, Federer not only held his service but obtained the most crucial break to draw level at 3-3. Another service hold made it 4-3 for him but his best game came next, when he began controlling the game. His forehand was working and Nadal came under severe pressure to save his service at 0-40. Though Nadal saved all three break points, Federer eked out two more break chances. Nadal saved the fourth but Federer broke him on the fifth, when the Spaniard’s return crashed on the net-pole. As Federer got ready to serve for the championship at 5-3, he lost the first two points. Soon, Federer faced two break points at 15-40. With an ace, down the T, he saved the first and went to the deuce with an inside-out forehand. Another huge serve from Federer elicited an error from Nadal and Federer got his first championship point. But his first serve deceived him again while the second was called out by the linesman. Federer’s challenge showed the ball touched the line. But he lost the point regardless, when his forehand flew long. Federer’s second championship point came from another ace. Now Nadal’s return to Federer’s service was short and the Swiss generated a huge forehand that left no chance for Nadal. But the linesman again called it out. Nadal challenged the point as everyone including the players waited for the hawk’s eye. When the decision came in favor of Federer, the Swiss magician roared and jumped in uninhibited joy. He had taken nearly 3½ hours for the 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
No one had seen so much emotion from Federer in any of his previous victories. But winning his 18th Grand Slam, 4½ years after the 17th, was something that must have elated Federer beyond containment. Later, the two great icons of modern tennis embraced each other at the net. They also spoke nice words for each other at the awards ceremony, also attended by the legendary Rod Laver.