Many people thought Roger Federer’s Grand Slam-winning days were behind him, but he defied his age and conventional logic to seal his 18th major title at the Australian Open on Sunday.
The Swiss master, returning from the longest injury break of his career, capped a resurgent fortnight with a five-set victory over his long-time rival Rafael Nadal which extended his record haul of major singles titles.
His latest Grand Slam win was perhaps his most surprising, as Federer last won a big title at Wimbledon in 2012 and at 35, his best days were considered over.
But Federer beat Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to become the second oldest major-winner in the post-1968 Open era, after Australia’s Ken Rosewall won the 1972 US Open aged 37.
It’s an achievement which further strengthens Federer’s case to be considered the greatest of all time, especially as he finally vanquished Nadal, his long-time nemesis.
The victory made Federer the first man in history to win five or more titles at three different Grand Slam events: five in Melbourne, seven at Wimbledon and five at the US Open.
His fifth Australian Open triumph was thought improbable in the current era ruled by
Murray and Novak Djokovic, before the top seeds’ early exits opened the door to the title.
Federer, who spent a record 302 weeks at number one and was inside the top 10 from 2002 until 2015, saw his ranking slide to 17 -- his lowest since 2001 -- after he spent six months out last year with a knee injury.
The Swiss legend did not play a match from July after tumbling during the final set of a loss to Milos Raonic in the semi-finals at Wimbledon.
Federer had had surgery for the first time in his career on his left knee in February and after the Wimbledon setback he did not finish the season, missing the US Open and the Rio Olympics.
But he said the long period of rest fuelled his incredible charge at the Australian Open, where he overcame three top-10 players in Tomas
Berdych, Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka to reach a record 28th Grand Slam final.
The result is that he stretches his lead on the all-time major-winners’ list, four ahead of Nadal and Pete Sampras and six more than Djokovic.
He holds the all-time men’s record of 314 Grand Slam wins, and has career earnings of more than US$100 million.
It was also his 89th singles title victory, the third most in the Open era behind Jimmy Connors on 109 and Ivan Lendl’s 94.
Roger Federer Fact Box
Born: Aug. 8, 1981 in Basel, Switzerland. (Age: 35)
GRAND SLAM TITLES (18): Australian Open 2004, 2006-07, 2010, 2017; French Open 2009; Wimbledon, 2003-2007, 2009, 2012; US Open 2004-2008
* Bursts on to the scene in 2001 when he ends Pete Sampras’s 31-match winning streak at Wimbledon in the fourth round before losing in quarter-finals.
* In 2003, becomes the first Swiss man to win a grand slam after beating Mark Philippoussis in the Wimbledon final.
* Only man to win five consecutive titles at two different grand slams -- Wimbledon and US Open.
* First man to win Wimbledon-US Open double four years in a row.
* Only man in the professional era to win three consecutive majors twice in his career when he captured the 2007 Australian Open title.
* Matched Bjorn Borg’s record of five consecutive Wimbledon titles in 2007.
* His run of reaching 10 consecutive grand slam finals is ended by Novak Djokovic in the 2008 Australian Open semi-finals.
* The 2008 five-set epic final at Wimbledon is regarded by many as the best ever tennis match. He lost the match to Rafael Nadal.
* His 2009 French Open crown made him the sixth man -- after Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Andre Agassi -- to have won all four grand slam titles during his career. Nadal later became the seventh to achieve the feat.
* Breaks American Pete Sampras’s record of 14 grand slam titles with his 15th win in the 2009 Wimbledon final to reclaim the world number one spot from Nadal.
* His record run of reaching 23 consecutive grand slam semi-finals is snapped by Robin Soderling in the last eight of the 2010 French Open. That record is widely considered as one of the most astonishing in sport as it means Federer finished in the top four at a major for almost six successive years. His streak is more than double the previous record held by Ivan Lendl, who reached 10 consecutive major semis.
* Becomes the 23rd man to top the ATP rankings in 2004, and keeps the ranking for a record 237 consecutive weeks. By winning his seventh Wimbledon title, he also matches Sampras’s record of spending 286 weeks as world number one.
* Holds a record run of 24 consecutive final victories, which was snapped when he lost 2005 Masters Cup final to David Nalbandian. Finished the season with an 81-4 win-loss record.
* In 2006, he reached all four grand slam finals, winning in Australia, Wimbledon and the US among a haul of 12 titles and a 92-5 win-loss record.
* Has a professional era record of 65 consecutive wins on grass, which was ended by Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon final.
* Won an Olympic men’s doubles gold medal with Stan Wawrinka at the 2008 Beijing Games. Also won the silver medal in men’s singles at the 2012 London Games.
* Comes back from six-month injury lay-off to win the 2017 Australian Open and at 35, becomes the oldest player to win a grand slam title since Australia’s Ken Rosewall won at Melbourne Park in 1972 at the age of 37. — Reuters
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