Roger that! Federer claims 18th grand slam over Nadal
HAIL King Roger.
Five years after his last major triumph, Roger Federer has returned to the grand slam stratosphere with a stunning Australian Open victory over nemesis Rafael Nadal.
Forced out of the game - and the top-10 - after knee surgery last year, the Swiss master completed one of the greatest comebacks in history with a fifth Melbourne Park trophy.
Struggling with injury and trailing 1-3 in the fifth set, Federer hauled himself off the canvas to win a thriller - 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 in 3hrs, 38mins.
At 35, Federer is the oldest men's champion in the professional era since Ken Rosewall at the 1970 US Open.
And he did it against a player who had beaten him 23 times in the previous 34 contests.
Records and tears tumbled in the immediate aftermath of the most improbable of Federer's 18 major triumphs.
"Tennis is a tough sport. There's no draws, but if there was going to be one, I would have been very happy to accept a draw tonight and share it with Rafa, really," Federer said when accepting his trophy.
"I don't think we both - either one of us believed we would be in the finals in Australia when we saw each other at your academy four or five months ago. (But) here we stand in the finals.
"You know, I'm happy for you. I would have been happy to lose too, to be honest. The comeback was perfect as it was."
Pushed to the brink, Federer turned back the clock to deny Nadal, the man who has caused him so much misery.
Federer hadn't beaten Nadal in a grand slam final in 10 years, the 2007 Wimbledon decider, and he hadn't won a major since Wimbledon in 2012.
But with Sunday night's glorious display, he is the first man in history to win five or more titles at three different majors - Wimbledon (seven), US (five) and Australia (five).
Federer's gap between his fourth and fifth Melbourne Park titles - seven years - is also an Open era record.
Extending his lead over Nadal and Pete Sampras (both with 14 majors), Federer momentarily struggled to comprehend the magnitude of a towering performance.
And with 73 winners and 57 unforced errors to Nadal's 35 and 28, Federer was bold and brave.
The ninth grand slam final clash between the sport's most cherished titans was their first in a championship match since the 2011 French Open.
Nadal anticipates this might not be the last time either, declaring he's back.
"For me personally (it's been) a great month," he said. I really enjoy it a lot, this beautiful country. Fantastic people supporting all the events ... in every event that I played, they've been unforgettable and especially here in Melbourne. Always going to be in my heart.
"It's a great two weeks for me. I had a hard time without having the chance to compete at full conditions (with) some injuries.
"I work very hard to be where I am today. I fight a lot during both weeks. Today, my thing was a great match, probably Roger deserved a little bit more than me.
"I'm just going to keep trying now. I feel that I am back at very high level, so I'm going to keep fighting during the season.
"Have a great season to come back here for many years and keep trying to have this (winner's) trophy with me.
"I'm going to keep trying hard to have the trophy again with me in the future."
And their much anticipated 35th clash quickly lived up to the hype as Federer made it clear he would not be bullied by Nadal's relentless bombardment of looping groundstrokes.
Warmed up by Melbourne left-hander Omar Jasika, Federer's tactics were immediately obvious - attack at every opportunity.
Serving imperiously - he lost one first serve for the set - he unleashed 13 winners to Nadal's five to hold a clear edge.
Using the same approach employed by Grigor Dimitrov in an epic semi-final against Nadal, Federer pocketed the first set after 34 minutes.
Miracle victory was starting to take shape - and then reality arrived in the form of two shuddering service breaks as Federer's serve and forehand waned.
Federer salvaged one service break but when Nadal levelled in sapping humidity the Swiss veteran desperately needed to regain control.
With the momentum running in Nadal's favour, Federer was immediately under siege in a pivotal third set.
He saved three break points - all with aces - and, in the following game, uncorked the shot that changed the course of the match. And tennis history.
At 30-all on Nadal's serve, Federer blazed a half-volley forehand winner off the baseline to set up break point.
Pressured into error, Nadal suddenly lost his way and dropped serve twice as rejuvenated Federer careered to a 2-1 lead.
Undeterred, Nadal roared back and quickly led 4-1, crowning the lead with an amazing forehand winner applauded by Federer.
In desperate trouble at 1-3 in the fifth, Federer conjured a match-turning break and rolled through the next four games to earn the chance to serve for the title.
There was one more twist when Nadal reduced Feder to 15-40 in the final game before the Swiss sealed victory with a signature forehand - but only after a HawkEye review.