By Jane Voigt
January 28, 2018 — The odds are forever in Roger Federer’s favor, just as they were coming into this Australian Open final. Yet only a few foresaw a battle like this one, which went the distance and earned Federer his 20th Grand Slam singles title and sixth Australian Open, 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, over Marin Cilic.
“I’m so happy,” Federer said to fans inside a packed Rod Laver Arena. “The fairytale continues. After the great year I had last year, it’s incredible.”
Federer’s emotions rose to the surface, as he continued to talk during the award presentation.
“I love you guys,” he said, tears welling in his eyes.
In an attempt to stop the outpouring, he raised the Norma Brooks trophy high over his head. But that didn’t help, as tears continued to fall. His father, Robert, was also brought to tears as witnessed when ESPN cameras panned to the player’s box.
“Big congratulations to Roger and his team,” Cilic said. “It’s amazing what you do year after year.”
Federer has played seven finals in Melbourne, now having won a decisive six and tying the record for most won with Novak Djokovic and Australian legend, Roy Emerson. Federer’s overall match record Down Under is now a neat 100-13.
With a closed roof and fast court, Federer’s ideal conditions, he leaped to lead in the opening set. It was bang-bang tennis at an extreme with Cilic as tight as a drum and down 2 breaks within thirteen minutes. In 25 minutes, Federer had closed the first set.
“We gotta get a cop out here to slow Federer down,” John McEnroe yelled, calling the match for ESPN.
Cilic wasn’t finished, though.
He fought through nerves and the occasion – his first Australian Open final – to take set two in a tiebreak where Federer had an early lead. Cilic’s forehand had taken on monstrous proportions. His butterflies had obviously flown off, as Federer wracked up his first set loss of the tournament.
Tactics shifted. The match turned from a Federer thumping to strategic shot-making. Federer mixed up the pace of the ball, his placement and spins — under spin and over spin — anything to disrupt Cilic’s fierce forehand. Nothing worked, as Federer’s break advantages disappeared like water on a desert. But momentum swung Federer’s way as Cilic hit error after error to start the fourth.
Cilic wasn’t finished, though.
“He’s back in it,” Patrick McEnroe pointed out on ESPN.
The match brought back memories of the 2009 U.S. Open final, when Federer was taken to five by an untested Argentine, Juan Martin del Potro. He, too, had a wicked forehand. Federer lost that match, one he still brings up from time to time as his worse defeat at a slam.
But that would not be Federer’s fate today.
“I was hitting the ball great,” Cilic said to the press, afterward. “I was just playing phenomenal. Then, first game was more or less critical at the end with having those four, I believe, break points that I didn’t convert. My next service game just ran away from me.”
So as fate would have it and at 40-0 in the seventh game of the fifth set Federer stood at the baseline on the verge of becoming the legend of legends. Then an impossible twist … Cilic challenged Federer on champion point just as Rafael Nadal had done against Federer in last year’s final. Federer bent over in laughter, the irony obviously not lost on him.
Federer will remain number two in the world, as rankings come out tomorrow from the ATP, Nadal ahead by a slim 155 points. Cilic, however, will rise to number three, the highest of his career.
Going into a long break for both men, before Indian Wells and Miami, we should note that old-man tennis is alive and well. Federer and Nadal have won the last five Grand Slams. At least the big two are still in it to win it in the long run. And to put that longevity in perspective, “A child born on the day Federer won is first Grand Slam would now be in high school,” Jon Wertheim noted on Twitter.
Last word … in commemoration of Federer’s 20th Grand Slam, Wilson Racquet Sports will begin selling tomorrow 20 commemorative Roger Federer ProStaff racquets, all personally signed by the maestro. Each one will cost $20,000.