MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal reduced Roger Federer to tears as he won a classic Australian Open final to secure his first hard-court Grand Slam title and stop the Swiss equalling the all-time Majors record on Sunday.
Nadal, the World No. 1, miraculously recovered from Friday’s five-hour semifinal to take the gripping five-setter 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-2 in four hours and 23 minutes.
Federer was left speechless by the defeat and he broke down sobbing as he tried to address the crowd. “God, it’s killing me,” said the Swiss, who was consoled by the Australian great Rod Laver, Federer’s hero.
“I love this game, it means the world to me and it hurts when you lose,” the dejected Federer said later.
“In the first moment you’re disappointed, you’re shocked, you’re sad. Then all of a sudden it overwhelms you.
“You can’t just go in the locker room and take a cold shower, take it easy — you’re stuck out there. It’s rough.”
“Sorry for today,” Nadal told Federer. “I know how you’re feeling right now. It’s really tough.
“But remember you are a great champion, you are one of the best in history and you’re going to improve the 14 of Sampras.”
Federer remains on 13 Grand Slams, one behind Pete Sampras, and with an enduring mental block against Nadal who has now beaten him in their last three Grand Slam finals.
Nadal moves to six Grand Slams, increasing his lead at the top of the rankings and earning a shot at sweeping the season’s Majors.
It was an incredible effort from the left-hander, 22, who played nearly 10 hours of tennis in three days to become the tournament’s first Spanish winner.
Federer had looked back to his best in the quarterfinals and semifinals but he committed errors in a nervous start and double-faulted on break point before handing over the first set.
The Swiss continued to look uncomfortable in the second and he skied a forehand to go a break down, but then broke back and converted the fifth break point in a marathon eighth game.
Nadal saved six break points in the third with some nerveless tennis and he played the perfect tie-break, intercepting a backhand pass with a superb volley to set up three set points.
Change in tactics
A switch in tactics brought immediate dividends as Federer swept through the fourth set but he tightened up in a tense decider and went a break down in the fourth game.
Federer saved two championship points at 5-2 and there was drama when a fan called “out” during a rally, causing the Swiss to stop playing and set up a third.
His complaints to the chair umpire were to no avail and Federer then drove a forehand long on the final point as Nadal collapsed to the floor in delight.
The two were meeting for the first time since last year’s epic Wimbledon final, when Nadal ended Federer’s five-year hold on the trophy before deposing him as World No. 1.
They have now contested seven Grand Slam finals with Nadal holding a 5-2 edge in the meetings and 13-6 overall.
But he had his last hard-court win over Federer in 2006 and was playing his first Grand Slam final on the surface.
Nadal was untouchable in the early rounds but was pushed all the way in a titanic semi-final with Fernando Verdasco, which wrapped up at 1:07 am on Saturday after a record five hours and 14 minutes.
Federer flirted with a shock exit to Tomas Berdych but then brutally exposed Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Roddick to reach his 18th Grand Slam final, one behind Ivan Lendl’s record. — Agencies
Men’s singles: Final: 1-Rafael Nadal bt 2-Roger Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-2.
Mixed doubles: Final: Sania Mirza & Mahesh Bhupathi bt Nathalie Dechy & Andy Ram 6-3, 6-1.