Roger Federer Wins the Australian Open for His 20th Grand Slam Title

There were tears, but that was to be expected from Roger Federer at the Australian Open.

In the end, the most remarkable part of his 20th Grand Slam singles title was that it came as no surprise. Not even at age 36 in a sport where the spoils have generally been reserved for a much younger crowd.

Federer, like Serena Williams, has redefined the limits. After going nearly five years without a major title, he has now won three of the last five in a phase of his career when he insists that he would have been content with just one more.

“I’ve won three Slams in 12 months,” he said. “I can’t believe it myself.”

On Sunday, under a closed roof in Rod Laver Arena, Federer secured his sixth Australian Open by recovering his mojo in time to hold off Marin Cilic, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Federer is the oldest man to win the Open since one of his role models, Ken Rosewall, in 1972. It was played on grass then in the much more intimate setting of the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club, with no retractable roofs in sight.

Though seeded No. 2 behind Rafael Nadal, Federer was the clear favorite coming into this year’s tournament based on his hardcourt results in 2017 and the fragile physical state of his traditional archrivals. Still, he resisted that label.

“I don’t think a 36-year-old should be a favorite of a tournament,” Federer said before the Open began.

But he proved the pundits correct, defending the title he won much more unexpectedly last year, when he was returning from a six-month break to heal a lingering knee problem.

That surprise victory, earned after a series of marathon matches, meant so much to him in part because he was playing free of big expectations for a change.

But Sunday night’s five-set win over the sixth-seeded Cilic resonated deeply, too.

Federer broke down in tears — not for the first time — during the trophy ceremony in Rod Laver Arena as Laver himself was taking pictures with his phone from the front row.

“The fairy tale continues, for us, for me,” Federer said, looking toward his team and his family in the players’ box.

“After the great year I had last year,” he said, hesitating and fighting to keep his composure, “it’s incredible.”

He continued to struggle, even after he was done speaking as the crowd roared while he and Cilic posed for pictures.

What had started as a rout, with Federer winning the first set in just 24 minutes, became much more complex, in part because of Federer’s anxiety and in part because Cilic adjusted to the indoor conditions after playing and practicing outdoors all tournament.

But Cilic was ultimately too inconsistent and not quite opportunistic enough while Federer, using his backhand chip to fine effect, was often able to put the tall Croatian in body positions and zones of the court where he was forced to be subtle instead of forceful.

Still, it was close, and with the match on the line, Federer fought off two break points on his serve in the first game of the fifth set and then broke Cilic in the next game. He challenged a second serve at 30-30 that turned out to be a double fault, then hit a deep return on the next point that Cilic failed to handle.

Federer held serve to go up by 3-0 in the next tense game and then accelerated to the finish line, one he has crossed more than any man at the major championships that define careers, even more so now than in Rosewall and Laver’s era.

Neither Rosewall nor Laver played a Grand Slam final under a closed roof, and though it was not raining on Sunday, temperatures in Melbourne surged again, hitting 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) in the late afternoon.

Though the final was to begin at 7:30 p.m., when the weather was slightly cooler, the organizers determined one hour before the match that the combination of high temperatures and humidity called for them to put in effect their extreme-heat policy and play the final indoors.

“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.”

Both players said they were not consulted about the decision but were informed in advance. Federer practiced indoors, and Cilic chose to stick with practicing outdoors and then paid the price.

“With the roof closed, it was way, way cooler than I expected,” Cilic said. “That was very, very difficult, especially for the final, to be in that kind of situation.”

He questioned the decision afterward but said he did not argue about it. Some former players, including the Australian star Pat Cash, cried foul, but Tennis Australia officials defended the move. Despite soaring temperatures for a few days during the first week, officials said, Sunday night was the first time all tournament that the threshold on their heat and humidity index had been reached.

The grueling, three-set women’s final on Saturday night, in which Caroline Wozniacki defeated Simona Halep, was played on a slightly cooler, less humid evening with the roof open. ESPN reported that after the match was over, Halep spent several hours in the hospital being treated for dehydration.

What had started as a rout, with Federer winning the first set in just 24 minutes, became much more complex, in part because of Federer’s anxiety and in part because Cilic adjusted to the indoor conditions after playing and practicing outdoors all tournament.

But Cilic was ultimately too inconsistent and not quite opportunistic enough while Federer, using his backhand chip to fine effect, was often able to put the tall Croatian in body positions and zones of the court where he was forced to be subtle instead of forceful.

Still, it was close, and with the match on the line, Federer fought off two break points on his serve in the first game of the fifth set and then broke Cilic in the next game. He challenged a second serve at 30-30 that turned out to be a double fault, then hit a deep return on the next point that Cilic failed to handle.

Federer held serve to go up by 3-0 in the next tense game and then accelerated to the finish line, one he has crossed more than any man at the major championships that define careers, even more so now than in Rosewall and Laver’s era.

Neither Rosewall nor Laver played a Grand Slam final under a closed roof, and though it was not raining on Sunday, temperatures in Melbourne surged again, hitting 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) in the late afternoon.

Though the final was to begin at 7:30 p.m., when the weather was slightly cooler, the organizers determined one hour before the match that the combination of high temperatures and humidity called for them to put in effect their extreme-heat policy and play the final indoors.

“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.”

Both players said they were not consulted about the decision but were informed in advance. Federer practiced indoors, and Cilic chose to stick with practicing outdoors and then paid the price.

“With the roof closed, it was way, way cooler than I expected,” Cilic said. “That was very, very difficult, especially for the final, to be in that kind of situation.”

He questioned the decision afterward but said he did not argue about it. Some former players, including the Australian star Pat Cash, cried foul, but Tennis Australia officials defended the move. Despite soaring temperatures for a few days during the first week, officials said, Sunday night was the first time all tournament that the threshold on their heat and humidity index had been reached.

The grueling, three-set women’s final on Saturday night, in which Caroline Wozniacki defeated Simona Halep, was played on a slightly cooler, less humid evening with the roof open. ESPN reported that after the match was over, Halep spent several hours in the hospital being treated for dehydration.

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