Roger Federer produced a vintage performance to overcome long-term rival Rafael Nadal in five sets to win the 2017 Australian Open and secure the 18th Grand Slam title of his career.

Both players rolled back the years in a pulsating final that the Swiss eventually won 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to claim a first Grand Slam victory since 2012.  At 35 Federer became the oldest man to win one of tennis’ big four tournaments since Australian Ken Rosewall won his home tournament in 1972. “I don’t think either one of us believed we’d be in the final in Australia four or five months ago” Federer claimed as he received the trophy. “This was a wonderful run and I can’t be more happy to have won,” he added.

With tournament favourites Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic suffering shock early exits it was the two most successful Grand Slam players in tennis history who took advantage to set up a dream final. The opening six games went with serve before Federer produced a decisive break of serve as an under pressure Nadal sent a back-hand long. The rest of the set continued with serve as Federer sealed a 6-4 scoreline with an ace.

Nadal struck back almost immediately, breaking Federer’s serve in the second game of the second set and again in the fourth game to open up a commanding 4-0 lead. And despite Federer breaking straight back in the set’s fifth game the rest of the set went with serve, Nadal winning it 6-3 to level the tie at 1-1. The third set was all Federer, who twice broke Nadal on his way to a resounding 6-1 set triumph that opened up a 2-1 lead in the match. But Spain’s Nadal fought back once more, breaking the Federer serve in the fourth game of set four, allowing him to clinch the set 6-3 and send the final in to a deciding set.

And Nadal continued to ramp up the pressure and seemed to seize the advantage by breaking Federer’s serve in the opening game of the final set. But the decisive turning point of the final came in the sixth game, as Federer broke back to level the set before holding in the following game to take a lead in the set for the first time. And Federer found an extra gear to once more break the Nadal serve and take a 5-3 lead. With Federer serving for the match Nadal forced two break points but the Swiss was not to be denied, surviving to eventually secure the title despite a nervous wait as Nadal called upon the video replay to challenge the championship point in vain.

“It was a great two weeks for me after some hard times with injuries” said runner-up Nadal, who was making his first appearance in a Grand Slam final since winning the French Open in 2014. “It was a great match and probably Roger deserved it a little more than me. I feel like I am back at a very high level and I’ll keep fighting to have a great season.”

The triumphant Federer entered the tournament as number 17 seed following a six month absence from the sport due to a knee injury. “We worked so hard the last six months.” he claimed. “Severin [Luthi, Federer’s coach] told me ‘you can win the Australian Open’ and I guess he was right. It is a beautiful moment in my career.”

Alistair Sargent (Correspondent, Sport)