Australian Open: Roger Federer thrilled by Grand Slam win over Rafael Nadal
Last updated on .From the section Tennis
Roger Federer said he enjoyed proving he could still win a Grand Slam more than taking his tally to 18 with a dramatic Australian Open victory over Rafael Nadal.
The Swiss, 35, won 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 to claim his fifth Melbourne title.
"For me it's all about the comeback, about an epic match with Rafa again," he said. "The last problem is the Slam count. Honestly, it doesn't matter.
"We're going to party like rock stars tonight. I can tell you that."
Five years after his last major victory at Wimbledon, and 10 years since he beat Nadal in a Grand Slam final, Federer finally clinched title number 18 with a thrilling five-set victory.
The victory came in his first tournament back following six months out with a knee injury, which he picked up when running a bath for his children at last year's Australian Open.
|Men's all-time Grand Slam singles titles leaders|
|18 (2003-present) - Roger Federer (Swi)||12 (1961-1967) - Roy Emerson (Aus)|
|14 (2005-present) - Rafael Nadal (Spa)||11 (1974-1981) - Bjorn Borg (Swe)|
|14 (1990-2002) - Pete Sampras (US)||11 (1960-1969) - Rod Laver (Aus)|
|12 (2008-present) - Novak Djokovic (Ser)||10 (1920-1930) - Bill Tilden (US)|
It appeared as though another Grand Slam opportunity was slipping away when Nadal took the fourth set and then moved 3-1 up in the decider.
However, Federer came storming back with five games in a row and a brilliant display of attacking tennis.
"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."
The victory makes Federer the first man to win three of the four Grand Slam titles at least five times each - but it was his lone victory at the French Open in 2009 that was in his thoughts on Sunday.
"I can't compare this one to any other one except for maybe the French Open in '09," he said.
"I waited for the French Open, I tried, I fought. I tried again and failed. Eventually I made it. This feels similar."
Federer rejects Cash criticism
Federer took a medical time-out after the fourth set for the second match running, and then had treatment to his thigh from the physio during the fifth set - something that infuriated former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 live, the Australian said: "You don't just stop a marathon if you're tired. Is it something that really requires medical attention, or is it tiredness? If it's tiredness then it's a loss of condition.
"I cannot stress how bad this has been supervised or looked at by the medical team here in the whole tour. It's wrong, wrong and wrong. It's cheating and it's being allowed. It's legal cheating but it's still not right."
Asked about the comments after the match, Federer responded: "I felt my quad midway through the second set already, and the groin started to hurt midway through the third set. I just told myself: 'The rules are there that you can use them.'
"I also think we shouldn't be using these rules or abusing the system. I think I've led the way for 20 years.
"So I think to be critical there is exaggerating. I'm the last guy to call a medical time-out. So I don't know what he's talking about."
Clay-court season can be special - Nadal
Despite letting a lead slip in the fifth set, Nadal remained positive at the end of two weeks in Melbourne that have seen him re-establish himself among the Grand Slam contenders.
Heading into the tournament he had not won a major since the 2014 French Open - the last time he had been past the quarter-final stage at a Grand Slam.
"At the end of the day it's another title - there is a winner, there is a loser," said the Spaniard.
"In these kind of matches, anyone can win. Being honest, in these kind of matches, I won a lot of times against him. Today he beat me. I just congratulate him.
"It's not more than another important title for him, another important two weeks for me. Even if it didn't finish the way that I wanted, it's been an important two weeks for me.
"The only thing that I can do is congratulate him and go back home with very positive feelings for me."
And the nine-time French Open champion is confident that his success on hard courts bodes well for a return to his beloved clay in the spring.
"On clay I recover better than here, then the opponents don't get that many free points, and I am playing solid from the baseline," said Nadal.
"If I make that happen, I think I can keep having success in hard courts, but on clay can be special."
Russell Fuller, BBC tennis correspondent:
Boris Becker and Michael Chang were both 17 when they won Wimbledon and the French Open in the 1980s. Pete Sampras' final Grand Slam at the 2002 US Open had seemed beyond his reach, and Goran Ivanisevic's 2001 Wimbledon triumph as a wildcard was another magical moment. But, for me, Federer's victory here in Melbourne is the greatest of all triumphs in the history of the men's game.
Federer won the title in his first competitive tournament for six months. At the age of 35, he won three five-set matches: two against top-five players, and the third in the final against a man he had not beaten in a Grand Slam since the Wimbledon final of 2007.
Federer's 18th Grand Slam title is likely to ensure he has a record which neither Nadal nor Novak Djokovic can break. And 12 months after leaving Melbourne with a torn meniscus in his knee, Federer looks as likely as anyone to win another Grand Slam in 2017.