Federer Beats Nadal in Epic 5-Set Australian Final, Takes Major Step Toward GOAT Status
Roger Federer finally won his elusive 18th Grand Slam title.
And in so doing he took a major step toward solidifying his position as the GOAT in men’s tennis.
With his epic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over his arch-rival Rafael Nadal, Federer won his first major title since capturing Wimbledon in 2012 and stretched his Grand Slam lead over Nadal to 18-14.
Had Nadal prevailed, the lead would have shrunk to 17-15 with the French Open looming. Nadal has won nine of his 14 majors in Paris. Now Nadal remains tied with Pete Sampras for second all-time.
“Roger Federer has solidified himself as the Greatest of All Time,” John McEnroe said on ESPN.
With the win, the 35-year-old Federer became the oldest man since Ken Rosewall in 1972 to win a major.
Federer also won the title as the father of four, as the No. 17 seed and after having taken a six-month layoff after re-aggravating a knee injury at Wimbledon last year.
“Tennis is a tough sport,” Federer said. “There’s no draws but if there was going to be one I would have been very happy to accept one tonight.”
“It was a great match, I think probably Roger deserved it a little bit more than me,” Nadal said. “I’m just gonna keep trying. I feel that I’m back at a very high level, so I’m just going to keep fighting the whole season.
“I’ll let Roger get the trophy and I’ll see you next year,” Nadal told the crowd with a huge smile.
After taking a layoff to rejuvenate, Federer has planned to play for another couple of years, but he hinted that it might be his last appearance in Melbourne.
“Of course I hope to see you next year and if not this was a wonderful run here and I can’t be more happy to have won tonight,” Federer said.
Asked later on ESPN about that comment, he said he had no retirement plans, but added he said it, “Because you never know. I’m not getting any younger.”
Since the Wimbledon win in 2012, Federer had lost his last three major finals, including two at Wimbledon and one at the US Open. His last Australian Open title came in 2010. Since then he had lost in five semifinals at this event.
Federer hadn’t beaten Nadal in a Grand Slam final since Wimbledon in 2007.
“Congrats to Roger and all his team,” Nadal said. “Just amazing the way that he is playing after such a long time without being on the tour, no? So that’s just very difficult to make that happen. So for sure you have been working a lot to make that happen.”
On his path to No. 18, Federer took out No. 10 Tomas Berdych, No. 5 Kei Nishikori, No. 4 Stan Wawrinka and finally No. 9 Nadal, who had won 23 of their previous 34 encounters, including six of their eight Grand Slam finals meetings.
Neither Federer nor Nadal had to face No. 1 Andy Murray or No. 2 Novak Djokovic, both of whom were upset in the first week of the tournament.
Federer won for just the third time in nine Slam finals against Nadal, and for the first time outside of Wimbledon. With the win he will improve to No. 10 in the world, while Nadal moves up to No. 6.
When Federer got down an early break in the fifth set after taking a medical timeout for a groin injury following the fourth, it looked like Nadal might cruise to the title.
But after trailing 1-3, Federer reeled off four straight games to go up 5-3. He broke Nadal in an epic eighth game when Nadal’s forehand hit the net and landed out.
Serving at 5-4 for the match, Federer then trailed 15-40 before earning his first match point. He sailed a forehand long to miss his first opportunity. He then closed it it out for this 18th major title with a forehand crosscourt winner. Nadal challenged the call, but it was ruled good.
And so came Federer’s 18th major.
And a major step towards GOAT status.
ALL-TIME MAJOR WINNERS
Roger Federer – 18
Rafa Nadal – 14
Pete Sampras – 14
Novak Djokovic – 12
Roy Emerson – 12
Bjorn Borg – 11
Rod Laver – 11
Bill Tilden – 10
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.