In a stunning match befitting of the occasion, Roger Federer defeated long-time rival Rafael Nadal to win Australian Open 2017, his 18th major title.
The 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 victory handed Federer his first major title in four-and-a-half years.
The win also gave Federer his first win over Nadal at a Grand Slam event since Wimbledon 2007, and was his first-ever victory over the Spaniard in Australia.
In one of the most highly-anticipated Grand Slam finals in history, Federer’s victory looked unlikely when Nadal broke serve in the opening game of the fifth set and built a 3-1 lead.
But when Federer’s shotmaking lifted to a new level against an increasingly dispirited Nadal, the Swiss reeled off four games in a row to achieve perhaps the most gratifying title of his storied career.
“I’m out of words,” Federer said after receiving the trophy from the great Rod Laver after his 100th Australian Open match.
“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.
“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.”
Nadal held to love in the opening game and was strong on serve early; in his first three service games he dropped a collective two points.
But in the seventh game, Federer was decisive. He played an aggressive return and followed it into net, picking off a backhand volley for 0-15. A wrong-footing backhand and a forehand swinging volley winner helped Federer to 15-40, and Nadal’s backhand error handed him the first break of the match.
With the first set in Federer’s hand shortly after, there was an immediate momentum swing. Nadal broke serve in the second game of the second set, pummelling Federer’s weaker one-handed backhand with heavy topspin forehands.
The Swiss held two break points in game three but couldn’t convert. And the missed opportunities seemed to plague him; his game became mired in mistakes, gifting Nadal a 4-0 lead. Although Federer closed the gap somewhat, the set was as good as gone.
The situation looked grim for Federer when, three times in the opening game of the third, he handed Nadal a break point with sloppy errors. Somehow, he served his way out of trouble.
And with that potential crisis navigated, he loosened up and rediscovered his feel and timing. Two running crosscourt forehand winners and a forehand winner down the line helped him break for 2-0, and two games later he threatened to make it 4-0 when he held two break points.
Although Nadal dug in to get on the board, another forehand winner saw Federer hold for 4-1. He broke serve again in the sixth game to extend his lead. Such was the clarity in Federer’s play that he stopped a rally mid-point to challenge a call via Hawkeye – never his strong suit – and was found to have correctly seen a Nadal ball out.
He closed out the game with a drop-volley winner, and held a two-sets-to-one lead.
Out of nowhere, Federer shanked two forehand errors early in the fourth and Nadal made him pay, belting a forehand winner en route to a break and a 3-1 lead. The Spaniard then made it 4-1 with an incredible get, digging out a sliced forehand on the full stretch off a Federer backhand and floating it crosscourt for a winner.
Four games later, Nadal held comfortably and sent the match to a fifth.
The sense of deja vu was palpable when Nadal broke Federer immediately to open the fifth – he was, after all, 6-2 against Federer in Grand Slam finals. And in Nadal’s two subsequent service games, Federer held break points but failed to convert.
Then, a plot twist. Serving at 3-2, Nadal saved yet another break point with a powerful first serve/forehand winner combination. Yet when a second arrived courtesy of a Federer backhand winner, it was one too many for the Spaniard to save.
Federer broke, held to love in the next game, broke again in the eighth game – requiring five dramatic break points to do so – and found himself serving for the match.
One match point came and went, but on the second, Federer struck a winning forehand. Nadal challenged the call, but in vain.
One of the greatest Grand Slam finals had come to a thrilling end.