Roger Federer: ‘I kept on fighting. I kept on believing’ – his 18th Major in quotes and records
Talk of Roger Federer’s tennis demise, much less retirement, has been silenced—at least for now
It was the morning after the night before, and Roger Federer had still not been to bed.
Not that you could blame him: Just as the last Sunday of the Australian Open turned into Monday in Melbourne, the Swiss star won his 18th Grand Slam title, almost five years after his last and almost 14 years after his first.
Win or lose, Federer admitted, he and his entourage had organised a party after what many were calling one of the most important matches in men’s tennis this decade. For he had differed little from anyone else in having low expectations when he began the tournament a fortnight ago. That he had reached the final was something to celebrate.
But with trophy tours, radio and TV commitments, Swiss and foreign press—and not a few hugs from family and friends along the way—he had not even completed his obligatory doping tests by almost 2am. However, he assured those waiting for his last press conference: “It’s better to party in a big bunch than all alone with one glass of champagne. I’m sure it’s going to be good fun!”
By the time he made it home, with the sun rising over Melbourne, his two sets of twins were up and waiting: They had not seen this trophy before and they took a shine to it.
The silver and gilt bowl did not look any the worse for its busy night and morning, but then nor did Federer, as he bowled up for one last photoshoot in the city. But now, he said, he would be heading home for rest and recuperation… and no, you still couldn’t blame him.
He explained to the assembled media: “I feel OK, but I’m very tired right now. My legs hurt like mad and my back’s stiff because I didn’t take any treatment—plus I was dancing! But I’m still on a high.”
Looking at the backstory, it’s easy to see why. When Federer set out on the Australian Open road, he was returning from six months away from the tour to rehab the knee that required surgery exactly a year ago. He played just seven events last year, slipped to his lowest ranking in more than 15 years and so was seeded outside the top 16 in a Major for the first time since Australia in 2001.
That meant he would have to face a higher seed by the third round, and the draw determined it would be No10 Tomas Berdych. Fourth would be No5 Kei Nishikori, then top seed Andy Murray in the quarters—and all before No4 Stan Wawrinka in the semis and the possibility of Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in the final.
Yet after a rusty start, Federer played as though he had never been away. Murray was knocked out to ease the path a little, and Djokovic’s early exit ushered in Federer’s nemesis Nadal for a remarkable 35th meeting.
It’s fair to say that both men, 35-year-old Federer and 30-year-old Nadal, were surprised at their own form, and the chance of one more Major final tussle almost six years after their last, especially as Nadal was also coming back from an injury-blighted 2017.
Federer: “I went to open [Rafa’s] Academy. I was on one leg, he had a wrist injury, and we were playing mini tennis with some juniors, and we were like, ‘This is the best we can do right now!’ Few months later, we may be in the same final here.”
Nadal: “For me it’s a privilege, a very, very special thing—I think for both of us. I was with him in the opening of my Academy… We were supposed to play an exhibition match, and he had an injury with his knee and me with my wrist, so finally we just played some shots with the kids. We never expected to be here in the final of the Australian Open.”
However, if Federer’s tests had been hard thus far—and there were two five-setters along the way—Nadal was in a different league. Federer had lost to the Spaniard in all three previous Australian meetings, faced a 6-2 deficit in their Grand Slam finals, and a 23-11 deficit in all matches. But he was ready: the fast court, the months of rest and training, the crescendo of form through the draw all boosted his self-belief.
“I think it’s very special and will taste so much sweeter because of the guy across the net… [But] I have to go in with a positive, winning mindset, and remember how well I’ve played in this tournament.”
The match would not disappoint: more than three and half hours of superb tennis that seesawed from one man to the other, a counterpoint of attack and counter-attack, breaks and counter-breaks. In the fifth set, Federer went down a break, levelled after numerous break-point chances, and broke again to serve for the match.
Even in the last game, the Swiss had faced down break points and line-challenges before the job was done: 18 Grand Slam titles.
At this stage in his record-breaking career, it goes without saying that Federer continues to stack up other firsts aside from extending his own title record. For a start:
· This was his 100th match in Melbourne, an Open record;
· With his fifth Australian title, he became the first man to win at least five titles at three of the Majors; and
· He became the first active player to win 200 matches against top-10 opponents.
A list of 18 more records [below] closes out this celebration of his 18th Grand Slam.
Meanwhile, let quotes from the man himself flesh out the story with an assessment of his progress through the tournament. Suffice to say, talk of Federer’s tennis demise, much less retirement, has been silenced—at least for now.
Federer… in his own words
R1, Jurgen Melzer 7-5 3-6 6-2 6-2
“I was happy. I was really, really happy just to win, to be out there. Now being here, feeling like I’m part of this tournament. I wasn’t just in the draw, I’m actually making strides.”
R2, Noah Rubin 7-5 6-3 7-6(3)
“If I could have signed up to be in the third round, feeling this way, weeks or days or a month ago, I would have taken it. I’m still hoping to feel better and better and better as we go along. But it’s really important for me to get through those first early rounds, get a sense of how is the game, how is the ball, how is the body, how is everything.”
R3, Tomas Berdych 6-2 6-4 6-4
“I think it was a great mental test for me to see if I could stay in the match point for point, keep rolling. I was able to do that… From the baseline, honestly I felt worlds better than in the first couple of rounds. Yeah, it’s wonderful.”
R4, Kei Nishikori 6-7(4) 6-4 6-1 4-6 6-3
“I felt great in the fifth, I must say. Great energy. Even deep into the fourth I thought, Yeah, fifth, here we go, no problem. I’m feeling good about my chances. I was playing positive tennis, I was playing offensive. My body was reacting. I was playing way better than the first couple of rounds where I put in a lot of mental energy to stay with my opponents… I think now that I’m in the tournament I was able to focus on the tactics.”
QF, Mischa Zverev 6-1 7-5 6-2
“I felt I was always going to be dangerous on any given day in a match situation, but as the tournament progressed, maybe I would fade away with energy, that kind of stuff… I think now that I’m in the semis, feeling as good as I am, playing as good as I am, that’s a huge surprise to me. If someone would have told me I’d play in the semis against Stan, never would I have called that one for me. For Stan, yes, but not for me.”
SF, Stan Wawrinka 7-5 6-3 1-6 4-6 6-3
“There’s a lot of work to be done. Still super far away from winning the trophy. It’s gone much better than I thought it would. That’s also what I was telling myself in the fifth set. I was talking to myself, saying like, ‘Just relax, man. The comeback is so great already. Let it fly off your racket and just see what happens.’ I think that’s the mind-set I got to have, as well, in the finals. Sort of a nothing-to-lose mentality.”
Final, Rafael Nadal 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3
“I told myself to play free. You play the ball, you don’t play the opponent. Be free in your head, be free in your shots, go for it. The brave will be rewarded here. I didn’t want to go down just making shots, seeing forehands rain down on me from Rafa. I think it was the right decision at the right time.
“I kept on fighting. I kept on believing that there was a possibility I could win this match… I didn’t come here thinking I would win, I thought a great result would be a quarter-final. I only started to believe once I played a great fourth round, great QF… It’s a beautiful feeling, can’t believe it’s real.”
18 Roger Federer records to shout about
1. Most Grand Slam singles titles, 18
2. Most Grand Slam singles finals, 28, and most consecutive finals, 10
3. Most Grand Slam singles SFs, 41, and most consecutive SFs, 23
4. Most Grand Slam singles QFs, 49, and most consecutive QFs: 36
5. Most consecutive Grand Slam tournaments played: 65
6. Most weeks at No1, 302, and most consecutive weeks at No1, 237
7. Most weeks in the top 2, 471, and most consecutive weeks in top 2, 346
8. Most ATP/World Tour Finals titles, 6, from most finals, 10
9. Most ATP/World Tour Finals appearances [consecutive] 14, with most SFs, 13
10. Most Grand Slam match wins, 314
11. Most ATP/World Tour Finals match-wins, 52
12. Most Masters match-wins, 330
13. Most Olympic match-wins, 13
14. Most match-wins over top-10 players, 202
15. Most ATP Fans Favourite Awards, 14
16. Most ATP Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Awards, 12
17. Most grass-court titles in Open era, 15
18. Most hard-court titles in Open era, 61