Federer beats Raonic in blockbuster Brisbane final to claim 1000th win

Roger Federer beats Milos Raonic 6-4 6-7 (2-7) 6-4 to win the Brisbane International title and record his 1000th career win

It would of course be great news for Roger Federer and his fans if, by the end of a hot Sunday in Brisbane, he was to win his first title before the Australian Open in four years.

However the style with which he had reached this year’s final, and the gauntlet he had thrown down to the competition ahead of the year’s first Grand Slam, made the prospect of victory doubly exciting. For after a rusty start to the tournament, the world No2 had taken a scant 94 minutes to win his last two matches.

But all eyes were on Federer for another reason. As the headlines proclaimed all week, both in Brisbane and across the tennis world, the mighty Swiss was on the cusp of a special milestone: 1,000 match wins.

Only two other men in the Open era had managed such a feat, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl. Asked about it before the match, Federer blew out his cheeks and said simply that he hoped he could achieve the landmark in Australia.

But the Brisbane final was a sell-out, with the grounds outside overflowing too, as tennis enthusiasts willed Federer to achieve the double whammy of win No1000 and title No83.

It would not be easy: He played the top-ranked man born in the 1990s, Milos Raonic, who had taken great strides year on year, and arrived in Melbourne ranked No8 to notch up an outstanding win in three compelling sets against No5 Kei Nishikori. What’s more, Raonic had scored his first win over Federer in their last meeting, at the Paris Masters, coming back from a set down.

For the big Canadian has moved beyond the two-dimensional serve-and-forehand player who won his first title at San Jose in 2011. Now, he boasts almost as much power and precision on the backhand wing, and has developed the mobility to attack from the net, too.

But it looked as though Federer was in a mood to take off where he had left off in the semis, opening in super-charged form to break the nervous-looking Raonic in the third game. The Canadian’s first serve missed its mark too often and Federer, better than anyone, was able to pick up his huge deliveries time and again.

Raonic did begin to warm up, and made a handful of cracking backhand winners, but could not find enough rhythm against Federer’s outstanding serving and net play. The Swiss served out the first set, 6-4, with more aces than Raonic and with just three errors to his name.

Federer looked set to finish off Raonic as quickly as he had Grigor Dimitrov in the semis, breaking for a 2-0 lead, but the Canadian was now playing himself into form, and with two down-the-line winning forehands, followed by a net attack, he broke Federer for 2-2. And so began an intense battle that would last another hour and a half and produce some of the finest, cleanest hitting of a tennis ball any fan would wish for.

By the time they reached 5-5, the combined winner count was 49, the errors just 21 errors, and they both served to love to force a tie-break.

That began with the longest rally of the match, 18 strokes—won by a forehand winner from Federer against the Raonic serve: He led 2-0. But the confidence of Raonic was now running deep, and he reeled off seven straight points for the game and set.

You could cut the tension with a knife in the opening game of the third set, as Federer fought for his life to hold serve against a flawless Raonic. A tight Federer missed his first serve repeatedly, and was punished mercilessly with first-strike winners.

The Swiss was constantly pinned to the baseline, and let out a roar of anger as another winner flashed past him. But he survived three break points, and eventually, after six deuces, held.

He then forced Raonic to deuce, but no further. The 19-minute set was still locked at 1-1, and after half an hour it was 2-2, with Raonic pummelling from both baseline and net at every opportunity. Indeed he ended the match with more winners at the net than the Swiss, 18 to 17. It was intimidating tennis, capped by a 141mph serve hit straight at Federer.

Again Federer had to defend break points, and but for a Raonic forehand missing the baseline by inches, he may have been beaten. Instead, he survived again, just as Raonic would defend two break points and five deuces to hold for 3-3.

It had become a case of ‘who blinks first’, and after three clean service games, it proved to be Raonic. Federer put up a perfect lob over the 6ft 5in Canadian for 30-30, and Raonic double faulted for break point. Federer, like a heat-seeking exocet, went for the kill, and made another piece of history with set and match, 6-4.

Brisbane was ready and waiting. Not only did they have the winner of six Australian Open titles, Roy Emerson, on hand for the trophy ceremony but the mighty Rod Laver, twice a winner of the calendar Grand Slam, ready to hand Federer a memento of his 1,000th win.

It is more than 16 years since Federer won his first match at the age of 17, and he has since won 17 Majors among what is now 83 titles. But even by his standards, this was a special day: “This is a special moment, no doubt about it. Are you kidding me? Thank you Rod for this special memento. It really means a lot to me. I’ll never forget this match.”

And after an aside to Raonic—“I hope also you reach 1,000, and can still walk when you’re my age!”—he spoke the words that every Queenslander hoped for:
“Hope I see you again next year: that would be my dream.”

So no sign yet, then, of Federer easing off. And surely, after this run through Brisbane, there is every sign that he is a serious contender for his 18th Grand Slam come Melbourne in a week’s time.

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