The peerless Swiss says he could never have dreamed of winning a fifth title at Melbourne Park – and magical 18th grand slam singles crown – at age 35 and in his first official tournament back after six months out of the game.
Conquering his most colossal rival on one of sport’s biggest stages for the first time since the 2007 Wimbledon final to break a four-and-a-half year major title drought only made it sweeter.
“I think it will sink in a little by little when I’m on the plane chasing my kids around or when I’m home watching them ski or whenever,” the father of four said after his epic 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 victory last night.
“This one I know is a milestone in my career, no doubt about it. It is like winning the French Open in ’09 (to complete my career grand slam) or my fifth Wimbledon in a row or fifth US Open in a row.
“And being part of those epic matches against Rafa, it is always epic. This one means a lot to me because he’s caused me the most problems over the years.
“So to get one go my way in a fifth set is incredible, absolutely, and feels super special.”
Federer confessed to doubts about his playing future after being forced to call an end his 2016 season after Wimbledon, after aggravating the knee he had operated on four months earlier.
“I mean, there’s no guarantee really,” he said.
“I did believe that I had the game and the mental and physical capabilities to do it again.
“Now, I knew it was not going to get easier, you know, with Novak (Djokovic) and Andy (Murray) making their moves and Rafa still being around, and (Milos) Raonic and (Kei) Nishikori and (Grigor) Dimitrov all getting better.”
But the knowledge that he’d reached two semi-finals and two title matches in his previous four grand slam appearances was enough to bring the champion Swiss back.
“I knew it would be tough, but if I look back at the last years, when I was fit, you know, 15, 12, 11, I mean, I was actually always really, really close,” Federer said.
“I had a tough year in ’13 with my back, last year with my knee and never lost belief.
“It shows and pays off for me and for everybody.”
His latest Australian Open title set new benchmarks, making him the first man in history to win three of the slams – Australian Open (5 times), Wimbledon (7), US Open (5) – at least five times.
The 2017 Australian Open title is Federer’s 18th major crown – four more than any other man – and came in his 28th grand slam decider, another record.
And at 35, he’s the oldest winner in 45 years, since Australia’s Ken Rosewall in 1972.
Seven-time slam winner John McEnroe hailed the unlikely title, saying: “Roger Federer has solidified himself as the greatest of all time.”
What a great and amazing match to wake up for. Thank you Roger, thank you Rafa. @AustralianOpen
— Milos Raonic (@milosraonic) January 29, 2017
6 months out and straight to win @AustralianOpen… we all aware what a insane feat that is??at 35..#justchecking huge congrats to Federer
— jamie delgado (@DelgadoJamie) January 29, 2017
Everyone stop right now .. take 6 months off. Come back. Win ….. can't believe what I watched. Congrats to my friend @rogerfederer
— andyroddick (@andyroddick) January 29, 2017
Take 6 months off and come back and win a slam…… 🙉 #GOAT
— deniskudla (@deniskudla) January 29, 2017
Gracious Nadal congratulates friend Federer
Beaten finalist Rafael Nadal jumped to the front of the queue to congratulate Federer after his success in the decider.
The pair share a ferocious on-court rivalry but are friends off the court.
Nadal won in Melbourne in 2009, but his 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 loss is his third defeat in his three visits to the final since lifting the trophy.
Despite his obvious disappointment, Nadal had kind words for his Swiss conqueror, who triumphed in his first tournament after a six-month absence due to knee surgery.
“Today (it) was a great match, probably Roger deserved it a bit more than me,” he said.
“Congrats to Roger and to all his team.
“It’s just amazing the way that he’s playing after such a long time without being on the tour and that’s just very difficult what happened.
“You have been working a lot to make that happen, so well done. I feel very happy for you.”
Federer repaid the compliment in his acceptance speech on Rod Laver Arena.
“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 you Rafa, really,” he said.
The 35-year-old winner urged Nadal to continue his push for a 15th major title despite his own ongoing injury issues.
“Stay on the tour. Keep playing, Rafa, please. Tennis needs you. Thanks very much for everything you do,” he said.
Nadal committed to return to Melbourne Park next year, saying he would “keep trying hard to have the trophy again with me in the future”.
Federer rejects Cash’s “legal cheating” critique
Federer rejected Pat Cash’s criticism of his fifth set medical time-out in his Australian Open victory.
Cash, working for BBC’s Radio 5 Live, called the lengthy break “legal cheating”, lashing the 18-time grand slam winner for his approach.
“It’s cheating and it’s being allowed. It’s legal cheating but it’s still not right,” the 1987 Wimbledon winner said.
Federer also took a time-out during his semi-final success over Stan Wawrinka, although that came after his countryman also needed a medical break.
But the Swiss defended his integrity after the match, saying he was playing through pain and had a track record of avoiding the treatments at all costs.
“My leg has been hurting me since the (second round) Rubin match,” he said.
“I was able to navigate through the pain. For some reason against Stan I had it from the start on both sides of the groin.
“I felt my quad midway through the second set already, and the groin started to hurt midway through the third set.
“I just told myself, the rules are there that you can use them. We shouldn’t be using these rules or abusing the system. I think I’ve led the way for 20 years.
“So I think to be critical there is exaggerating. I’m the last guy to call a medical timeout. I don’t know what he’s talking about.”
After losing the fourth set 6-3, Federer recovered to win the final set by the same scoreline.
Beaten finalist Rafael Nadal said he had “no opinion” about the about that: “I don’t know what’s going on.”
Federer missed the final six months of last year’s tour after he had surgery on an injured knee.
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