Switzerland’s top tennis ace, Roger Federer successfully defended his Australian Open crown and landed a record-equalling sixth title in Melbourne, plus a landmark 20th Grand Slam of his career with a five-set victory against Marin Cilic.
Federer, playing in his 30th Slam final, was pushed all the way by Cilic but came through a riveting contest 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 3-6 6-1 in three hours and three minutes.
“I’m so happy, it’s unbelievable. It’s a dream come true and the fairytale continues,” an emotional Federer said during his on-court presentation
“It’s been a long time waiting for this final. It’s easier in the afternoon, but when it’s at night you think about it all day. I’m happy it’s over now. After the year I had last year, it’s incredible.”
With the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena due to extreme heat, it was Federer who made a faultless start, while it quickly turning into a nightmare for Cilic after he dumped a smash into the bottom of the net to lose serve in the opening game before falling 4-0 down.
The relief was visibly etched on Cilic’s face when he finally got on the board in the fifth game. However, there was no way back for the sixth seed with the set already in the bag for Federer, who duly served it out in just 24 minutes.
Cilic, the former US Open champion, began to look a much more difficult proposition in the second set as his nerves settled.
Despite failing to take a set point opportunity when leading 4-5 after dumping a weak backhand into the net, he pounced in the ensuing tie-break by producing a superb forehand winner to bring up two set points at 6-4 and levelling the final up with a composed smash. It was the first set Federer had lost during the entire tournament.
The 36-year-old responded in the best possible manner with a scintillating spell culminating in a clinical break in the sixth game of the third set before quickly wrapping it up with an ace in 29 minutes to move closer to the title.
Federer found his level of the first set again in the fourth with some blistering tennis and an early break looked to set the tone. Cilic looked to be heading for defeat when he conjured up his first break of the final to level up at 3-3.
It was only the fifth time Federer had been broken all tournament and the giant Croat broke through again in the eighth game before successfully serving it out to keep the match alive and set an unlikely deciding set shoot-out.
A determined Federer fought off a break point in the first game before he re-established control to stop Cilic in his tracks and race to a 5-1 lead left him serving for the title.
He needed only one match point, with Cilic netting a backhand return. The Croatian appealed to Hawk-Eye but the serve just clipped the line.
“It was an amazing journey to come to the final. It could have been the best two weeks of my life, but Roger played a great fifth set,” Cilic said.
“I want to thank my team, you’re unbelievable. We worked hard for this year, hopefully we will lift these trophies in the future.”
Federer, the second oldest man to win a slam title behind Ken Rosewall, moves four clear again of Rafael Nadal in terms of overall titles and is only three behind Serena Williams and four adrift of all-time record holder Margaret Court.