Roger Federer continuous to baffle his opponents and many tennis fans as he rewrites the record books and by the looks of things, will continue to do so for a few more years.
At the age of 36, he has won his 6th Australian Open title to join current record holders Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson and in the process, has improved his record of career slams to 20, and become the second oldest player to win the title after Ken Rosewall.
I'm so happy. It's unbelievable. Of course, winning is an absolute dream come true -- the fairy tale continues for me. After the great year I had last year. It's incredible. Roger Federer
Playing under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena after officials controversially invoked the extreme heat policy, he strode to a 6-2 6-7(5) 6-3 3-6 6-1 victory over Marin Cilic in Sunday night’s championship decider at Melbourne Park.
The writing on the wall was evident from the start as the Swiss great came out to dominate the opening set with some excellent serving, making the most of a nervous Marin Cilic, storming into a 4-0 lead within 16-minutes. Changing his racket, the Croat playing in his third grand slam final, finally got a toe hold in the set, settling those nerves to start his fightback.
While Federer looked light on his feet, reaching wide balls with ease and negating much of Cilic’s serving power while holding his own relatively easily, the Croat had to dig deep to make any impression on the world number two and to his credit, pulled himself together to make a match of it but never looked able to stamp his authority on his opponent who, whenever he fell behind, quickly regained lost ground.
Having lost the opening set in just 24-minutes, the shell-shocked Cilic knew he had to do something to prevent the match slipping away much as it had done in last year’s Wimbledon final when he was suffering from bad blisters.
He controlled his nerves and reset his focus to hold his opening game of the second set and started to make inroads into the Federer defences even holding breakpoints against him.
Cilic denied Federer a break in the ninth game to force him into serving to stay in the set and nearly succeeded with the aid of a spectator upsetting the Swiss’s service rhythm resulting in him delivering two double faults to hand set points to his adversary. He saved them all for 5-5 the set slipped into a tiebreaker two games later.
There Cilic, having fallen behind 2-3, broke back for 3-3 and then delivered a striking forehand winner to go 6-4 up and after 84-minutes of play, levelled the match with an emphatic smash.
Federer shrugged off that set-back and within 29-minutes quickly reasserted himself to take the third in what was turning into a topsy-turvy match. Cilic, who was still to capture a Federer serve, achieved that in the sixth game as he came roaring back from an early break in the fourth, to go on and repeat that with some patient play in the eighth game to serve out to love for 2-sets-all.
With the final now on a knife-edge, Federer fended off a further two break points in the opening game of the deciding set and broke the Croat’s resistance when he took 3-0 lead to stride over the finishing line on the third hour of the match, completing his historic win 3-minutes later.
Federer couldn’t conceal his elation at winning, beaming widely as he waited for the presentation ceremony and then, on receiving the trophy, breaking into tears when addressing the packed auditorium.
“I’m so happy. It’s unbelievable,” he declared. “Of course, winning is an absolute dream come true — the fairy tale continues for me. After the great year I had last year. It’s incredible.
“You guys, you fill the stadiums, and you make me nervous. You make me go out and practise. I’d just like to thank you for everything. It wouldn’t be the same without you, thank you. Marin’s (Cilic) team as well. You guys work hard, all the best. And my team, I love you guys. Thank you,” he added as the tears started to flow.
“It was an amazing journey for me to come here to the final,” Cillic had said earlier. “It could have been the best two weeks of my life. But today was a tough match. I had a slight chance at the beginning of fifth but really Roger played great set.”
Meanwhile Federer can enjoy the fact that he is the first male payer to win 20 grand slam titles and joins Margaret Court (24) and Serena Williams (22) in what is becoming an exclusive Twenties Club.
And the bookies are already touting him as favourite to collect his 21st at Wimbledon in July a few weeks before his 37th birthday on August 8.