“I would have been happy to lose, too, to be honest,” Federer said. “The comeback was already fantastic. Tennis is a tough sport, there are no draws but if there were I’d have been happy to draw this one with Rafa.”
At the age of 35, four and a half years after his last Grand Slam victory and having missed the second half of 2016 because of a knee injury, the Swiss conjured up yet another piece of magic on a warm Sunday night in Melbourne to claim his 18th Grand Slam title.
His 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over his biggest rival, Rafael Nadal, gave him a fifth Australian Open crown, seven years after his last and completed perhaps the most remarkable comeback in tennis history.
“It’s a beautiful moment in my career,” Federer said in a TV interview. “The last seven, eight months have been great – the worst I ever felt was in the grass-court season because I knew my knee was not well, I knew I wouldn’t be at 100 percent for the biggest tournament in the world, then I would be out for the Olympics, US Open.
“Severin (Luthi, his long-time coach) said, you can win the Australian Open. I guess he was right.
“This one stands alone, it’s so different from all the others. I know this is a milestone in my career. Like winning the French Open in 2009, or going for my fifth Wimbledon.
“This one means a lot to me because he’s caused me a lot of problems over so many years so it’s good to get one.
“I couldn’t be happier. (Before the start), I would have said a great event would be quarters. That was before I had the draw. I went so much further than I thought I could. Then when you were in the semis and finals, you think maybe it’s possible. Then in the final, I just said, believe, fight and maybe get lucky. I really got lucky tonight. I did believe that I had the game and the mental and physical capabilities to do it again. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but if I look back at the last years, when I was fit, 2015, 2012, 2011, I was really close. I never lost belief.”
Nadal, who’d had a day less to recover and who’d had the more physically demanding semi-final, taking five sets to beat Grigor Dimitrov, admitted he maybe lacked a little bit of speed but he still fought as he always does.
The first four sets were up and down – one player playing well while the other struggled, but the fifth was outstanding. After Federer took a medical timeout at the end of the fourth set, Nadal broke in the opening game and having fended off a few break points to lead 3-1, he looked on his way to victory. “I thought also for a second it’s probably not going to happen tonight,” Federer said. “But maybe I got lucky.”
“I feel happy,” he said. “I played a great quality of tennis during the whole month that I have been playing. That’s great news for me. The only goal for me is keep going. I believe that if I have my body in the right conditions, I can have a great year because I feel that I am playing well.”