MELBOURNE, Jan 30: On Sunday afternoon in Melbourne, Roger Federer stunned his nemesis Rafael Nadal after five years of his last major triumph. The Swiss maestro defied all odds to win a record 18th major title in front of a cheering Rod Laver Arena crowd, with Rod Laver himself in the stands.
He had been out of the game and out of top-10 after knee surgery last year. Not to forget that he is 35 now. Thus, the match on January 29, 2017 will surely go down in history as one of the greatest comebacks ever. After trailing 1-3 in the fifth set, Federer won a thriller in 3 hours and 38 minutes to win his fifth Australian Open title. The final scoreline read: 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3, which is a reminiscent of their many five-setters.
What made it exciting was that he beat a player who had beaten him 23 times in the previous 34 contests and the prospect of playing the Spaniard in the final was described by Federer as his ‘biggest challenge’. But for now, Federer has taken a huge lead over Nadal and Pete Sampras, both of whom have won 14 majors. Also, he has become the oldest men’s champion in the professional era since Ken Rosewall at the 1970 US Open.
Probably these are the things that makes a legend – the will to push the envelope and raise the bar. When FedEx lifted the trophy in Melbourne after many heart-in-the-mouth moments, millions of his fans across the world must have heaved a sigh of relief. After all, the last time he had won a Grand Slam title was in 2012 at Wimbledon and since then, till now, there had been a lot of talk on his retirement.
What makes the man so endearing, and of course enduring, apart from the beautiful tennis that he plays, is how he conducts himself on and off the field. How humble he appears, many have wondered! Sample this – after the game in Melbourne, he told a packed stadium, “I would have been happy to lose too, to be honest. Tennis is a tough sport, there’s no draws. If there was going to be one, I would have been happy to have it tonight and share it with Rafa, really.”
For tennis fans across the world, it was a dream to see two ‘true’ champions compete with each other and give it all in the season opening Slam. What was also adorable was the mutual respect the two have shown towards each other. After such an gruelling match, both have not failed to acknowledge each other’s comebacks from their respective injuries. (Nadal had not played much last season with an injured wrist.) And when Roger told Nadal to keep on playing as tennis needed him, one could almost see emotions cloud the latter’s face.
“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,” FedEx, as he is lovingly called, said.
Fans of tennis and Federer should savour his game as long as it can be. But hopefully, when FedEx does bow out of the game, he will do it on a high and sure knows that time. That right time! There is nothing more painful than to watch a champion past his prime and struggle to compete with young guns.
But for now, no Federer fan will forget for a long time, a 26-stroke rally in the fifth set that ended with a FedEx forehand for the final point at Melbourne. There was a kind of anti-climax brewing when a review was called. But the ball caught the outside of the line, and an emotional Federer burst into tears of joy even as the world saw the replay.
For Federer, this win will always be as special as his first Grand Slam singles title in 2003 at Wimbledon when he beat Mark Philippoussis to lift the trophy. One can only say – what a journey and what a player!AGENCIES