Roger Federer prevailed 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 after a rollercoaster ride of a 35th chapter of his rivalry with Rafa Nadal to win his fifth Australian Open and clinch a first grand slam title in four and a half years on Sunday.
The 35-year-old capped his triumphant return from knee surgery with a record-extending 18th major title after a vintage battle with his Spanish rival, who had won all three of their previous meetings at Melbourne Park.
Lefthander Nadal, also returning from injury this year, showed sustained periods of his best from the baseline but was just unable to stay with his rival in the gut-wrenching drama of the deciding set.
Federer was forced to endure a nervous wait for his victory after Nadal unsuccessfully challenged the line call on the second championship point.
But he was finally able to celebrate with tears in his eyes after coming out on top after three hours and 38 minutes of enthralling tennis to become the first man to win five or more titles at three different grand slams.
“There are no draws in tennis but I would have been happy to share one with Rafa tonight,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it. I hope to see you next year and if not it’s been a wonderful run here.”
Nadal, the 2009 champion, was typically gracious after losing his third Melbourne final and coming up short in his bid for a 15th grand slam title.
“Congrats to Roger, just amazing the way he’s playing after so long away from the tour,” the 30-year-old said.
“It’s been a great month for me; I worked a lot to get where I am today. It was a great match and I think Roger probably deserved it a little more than me. I will keep on fighting.”
It was the Swiss who made the first breakthrough, though, converting the first break point of the match with a forehand winner to go 5-4 up.
That was enough to take the opening set but Nadal was all over his opponent’s serve at the start of the second with two Federer backhands into the net giving the Spaniard a 2-0 lead.
Federer had two break points in the next game but Nadal fought them off and then broke again as his rival struggled for accuracy under the Spanish onslaught.
Four big forehands gave the Swiss a break back but Nadal held firm to serve out the set and Federer needed three aces to save three break points in a 10-minute game at the start of the third.
The momentum had swung, though, and Federer stepped up a gear with some brilliant shot-making allowing him to rattle off the next two games and Nadal left scrambling to fend off a second break in a marathon fourth game.
He was unable to repeat the feat in the sixth game and Federer, his crosscourt backhand causing Nadal all sorts of problems, saved a couple of break points to secure a two sets to one lead with a drop volley.
The pendulum had not finished swinging yet, however, and Nadal broke for 3-1 in the fourth when Federer netted a backhand volley and held under unrelenting pressure in the next game with a brilliant crosscourt forehand winner at full stretch.
Nadal again closed out the set and Federer took a medical timeout before the start of the decider, returning to court only to give up his first service game.
Federer was not prepared to give up on his first grand slam since the 2012 Wimbledon tournament easily and put the set back on serve at 3-3 when Nadal sent a rasping forehand centimetres wide on his sixth break point.
He needed another five break points on Nadal’s next service game before the Spaniard finally cracked and Nadal was still battling away when Federer finally sealed the deal.
On Saturday, Serena Williams reigned supreme in tennis’s great sibling rivalry, edging an emotion-charged clash with sister Venus to claim her seventh Australian Open and a record 23rd grand slam title in the professional era.
Beset by nerves early in the tense family affair, the American needed all her firepower and famed mental strength to fend off Venus, who scrapped hard to the end before going down 6-4 6-4 at Rod Laver Arena.
Fourteen years after beating Venus for her maiden title at Melbourne Park, Serena’s seventh crown was sealed with a heady charge to the net that forced a desperate backhand from Venus to float wide.
Eyes ablaze in joyous disbelief, Serena slumped to the court and threw her hands in the air, the world number one ranking also re-captured from Angelique Kerber.
She paid tribute to Venus, her long-time doubles partner and enduring inspiration.
“She’s an amazing person, there’s no way I would be at 23 without her,” said Serena, cradling the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
“There’s no way I would have anything without her.
“My first grand slam started here, and getting to 23 here, but playing Venus, it’s stuff that legends are made of. I couldn’t have written a better story.”
The win moved Serena past Steffi Graf on the list of all-time grand slam champions. Only Margaret Court, who watched the match from the terraces, is ahead of her on 24.
Serena arrived in Melbourne with only two matches under her belt, having cut short her season to recover from injury after the U.S. Open.
But she roared through the tournament without losing a set and, at the age of 35, the relentless pursuit of grand slam silverware will go on, and with sister in tow.
“We’re both, like I say, 30-fun,” said Serena of their longevity.
“Now I just feel like I’m satisfied with where I am, although I always want to win.”
Venus, 36, had already proved an inspiration by reaching her first final since her loss to Serena at Wimbledon in 2009. It made her the oldest woman to do so at Melbourne Park since tennis went professional in 1968.
She lost her seventh of nine grand slam title deciders to her younger sister but won over the Rod Laver Arena crowd by battling hard to the finish.
“Congratulations Serena on number 23, I’ve been right there with you, some of them I’ve lost right there with you,” said the seven-times grand slam champion, raising a laugh from the crowd.
“Your win has always been my win, you know that.”
The sisters’ combined ages added up to the ‘oldest’ grand slam final in the professional era but they ran like the teenagers they were in 1998, when they played each other for the first time in a tour match at the same tournament.
Nerves weighed heavier, however, and in a tense start, both dropped serve twice in the opening four games.
Serena was the worst afflicted, and she smashed her racket in a rage in the third game, having slipped behind the baseline when chasing down a ball.
The game’s greatest server double-faulted three times to be broken a second time, causing a gasp from the crowd.
But she soon settled to forge a 5-3 lead before sealing the set with a thumping pair of aces.
Venus was quickly under siege, with Serena feasting readily on her modest second serve.
Serena pounced in the seventh game, breaking her in the seventh game with a searing backhand return and she served out to love to come within a game of the title.
Venus pushed hard to break back at 5-4 but flung her racket away in despair after hammering a forehand into the net to give up match point.
It was all Serena needed and after a furious exchange of shots, she charged in to the net swinging to claim yet another major title. –Reuters