Roger Federer continues to make history. Sunday night in Melbourne, the Swiss great won a record 20th Grand Slam title toppling Marin Cilic in five sets 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 and claim a 6th Australian Open title.
The win put Federer in rare air, as the only man to reach 20 and he joined only Magaret Court, Serena Williams and Steffi Graf among all players all-time to reach that mark. And at 36 and having won three of the last five Grand Slams, more might be on the way.
“I don’t have a special memory with the number 20,” Federer said. “Maybe if I have time to think about it, because thus far I was not allowed to think of it going into the match, because that’s exactly when things go bad, when you think too far ahead. I think that was a tricky one tonight.
“All day I was thinking, How would I feel if I won it, how would I feel if I lost it? I’m so close, yet so far. I think I was going through the whole match like this.
“I’ve had these moments in the past, but maybe never as extreme as tonight. Getting to 20 is obviously very, very special, no doubt.”
After running through the first six rounds without dropping a set, Federer began the match, which was played under the roof due to heat, rolling out to a 4-0 lead in a blink of an eye. Nearly untouchable, Federer took the opener in just 24 minutes.
Cilic, who had lost in horrible fashion in the Wimbledon final last summer, began to settle down and find his groove. Cilic’s serves were working and the 29-year-old began connecting on his forehand. He saved a key break point at 4-all with a second serve ace, then later forced a breaker which he won by taking four of the last five points.
Somehow, Federer regained momentum in a quick third set, and then went up a break 3-1 in the fourth. JUst three games from the win and back in control, it looked all but over. It wasn’t.
Federer’s serve and baseline game began to fade and out of nowhere, Cilic pounced taken the last five games of the fourth.
It was on to a decider.
After no long matches all week, was Federer going to feel like a 36-year-old?
With tension growing, Federer saved two critical break points in his very first service game of the fifth, then proceeded to kick it into gear to finish off the Croat in 3 hours, 3 minutes.
“For me it was really just trying to break his momentum,” Federer said of the start of the fifth. “Tried to serve well. Tried to get lucky a little bit. I think I was able to get that first game, at least get on the board. From then on, maybe momentum shifts a little bit, and it’s exactly what happened.
“I think experience helped me there a little bit, and also a little bit of luck, I felt like I needed a little bit tonight.”
Federer’s 6th Australian crown ties him with Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson. He now has 96 career titles overall.
“Defending my title from last year, sort of the fairytale continues,” Federer said. “That’s what stands out for me, maybe not equaling Emerson or Novak. They had their own unbelievable careers. I admire what they’re doing and have done with Emo. Yeah, it’s definitely a very special moment in my life again.”
Afterward, the Swiss also addressed the late decision to keep the roof closed on Rod Laver because of the heat, which reportedly wasn’t as hot as it was the first week how the humidity increased the wet bulb globe above the 32.5C threshold.
“I was surprised to hear they had the heat rule in place for a night match,” Federer said. “I never heard that before. When I arrived to the courts, I was totally ready to play outdoors. They told me they were thinking — they think it will probably be indoor. Then they kept me posted along the way.
“Half an hour before, we got the word that it’s going to be indoors. For me, it doesn’t change anything in the preparation, to be honest. I was ready for either.”
Added Cilic on the topic, “They just came to me to tell me that they are thinking about decision, and they going to make the final decision just around 7 p.m., just slightly before the match. I didn’t mind to have roof closed, but it was a huge difference in temperature from having outside 38, then when you came in, it was like 23, 4, I don’t know. It was way cooler than I expected.”
Cilic falls to 1-9 against the Swiss, and 1-2 in Slam finals.
“Feeling a little bit obviously disappointed, which is normal,’ said Cilic. “It was a big battle, five sets. I managed to turn it around. In the fourth set, it was a big boost for me with the game that I played on 3-2 when he was serving. Then that lifted me a lot up. I started to play great tennis.
“I was hitting the ball great. I was just playing phenomenal. Then first game of the fifth set was more or less crucial at the end with having those four, I believe, breakpoints that I didn’t convert. Just a little bit tougher game, my service game next game. Just it ran away from me.”
Cilic, tough, moves up to No. 3 in the rankings and now figures to be in the mix the rest of the year.
“Played great tennis over these two weeks,” Cilic said. “I had tough matches, tough opponents, beating Rafa, reaching here a final, which is definitely amazing. Looking at my own game, I think I improved a lot. I’m playing great tennis. That’s really exciting for me for this 2018.”
Federer now will have a good month off before hitting the U.S. hard courts for Indian Wells where he could potentially be ranked No. 1.
“I’ve won three slams now in 12 months,” Federer said. “I can’t believe it myself. I just got to keep a good schedule, stay hungry, then maybe good things can happen. Then I don’t think age is an issue, per se. It’s just a number.
“But I need to be very careful in my planning, really decide beforehand what are my goals, what are my priorities. I think that’s what’s going to dictate how successful I will be.
“Exciting times ahead. But, no, as a professional, it’s what we do. But I’m happy I’m in that position right now.”
36 and going strong.
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