A break of serve mid-way through the set was all Federer required to take the opener and having never defeated the Swiss in a Slam final after dropping the opening set, it proved to be telling for Nadal. The Spaniard raced into a 4-0 lead in the second set, before his opponent did similar to him in set number three. The tides appeared to have turned as the ninth seed dominated the fourth set and the opening exchanges of the fifth after breaking Federer in the opening game. The 17th seed responded and fully deserved his victory, testing Nadal in each of his service games as he reeled off four games in row to comeback from a break down at 2-3 to win the set and the title.
This was the 35th meeting between the two in this infamous rivalry and their first clash since the 2015 Basel final, which the Swiss won 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. The Spaniard led their overall head to head 23-11 and had won all their previous meetings at Melbourne Park, including a five-set win in the final in 2009 and two victories at the semifinal stages in 2012 and 2014. With Nadal having won the last six Grand Slam encounters against the 17-time Grand Slam champion, there were strong odds that the former champion would secure his second title down under.
Fast start for Federer
Both players started out strongly on serve, with Nadal holding two of his opening three service games to love, but it was he who faced the first test in the seventh game as some scintillating shot-making from the Swiss brought up two break points. Federer only needed the one chance as he struck his ninth winner with a drive forehand volley down the line to secure the first break in the final.
11 points in a row on serve including back-to-back holds to love put the 17th seed in a commanding position as he took a 5-3 lead in the opening set. Nadal forced the former world number one to serve for the first set and the Swiss’ impressive serving continued, swiftly wrapping up the set, 6-4, after 34 minutes, finishing with an ace out wide.
The Spaniard strikes back
In the second game of set number two, a double fault from Federer put him under pressure for the first time on serve as the Swiss trailed 0-30. A fortunate net cord helped the 17th seed recover to 30-30, but Nadal forced his way to a first break point. Federer saved the first opportunity with an unreturned fiercely struck forehand cross court, however he could not deny the Spaniard a second time as the ninth seed made his first breakthrough.
Federer was looking to secure an immediate break back and drew errors from his opponent as he moved to break point. However, a breakdown on the forehand side saw the ball sail long and the chance pass him by. A second unforced error on the forehand side brought up game point for Nadal before two victories in extended rallies gave the Swiss another crack at breaking back. The Spaniard dug deep, forcing Federer to make the first mistake in the rally to keep the ninth seed in the game. It was his tenacity which helped him secure a pivotal hold to move 3-0 in front. That hold looked set to be pivotal as Nadal quickly extended his lead, securing a double break with just under an hour played in the match.
With the freedom of being so far behind on the scoreboard the Swiss swung out, striking two fierce forehands to move to 0-30. Nadal recovered to 30-30 before Federer hit back to back forehand winners, making that three in the game overall as he pulled one of the breaks back. A hold of serve from Federer halved the deficit for him in the set but a hold to love from Nadal in response took him one game away from leveling the score in this final.
Another swift service hold from the Swiss asked the question of the 14-time Grand Slam champion to serve for the set and Nadal had no such problems, holding to love as Federer put a forehand beyond the baseline to seal the second set for the Spaniard 6-3. Just a 56%-win rate behind the Swiss’ first serve in set number two compared to 93% in the first set was the key factor in Federer’s downfall after a blistering start in the opening set of the match.
Swift response from the Swiss
In the first game of the third set Federer saw a 40-0 advantage evaporate, leaving him to face three break points after a couple of poor missed volleys on the deuce points. Staggeringly, the 17th seed snuffed out all three chances with three aces out wide before progressing to hold as we hit the 10-minute mark for the set after just one game.
Defying the odds to hold in that service game appeared to re-energise Federer as the forehand began to fire, earning him a 0-30 advantage. The Spaniard recovered to 30-30 before the Swiss hit the shot of the match so far, producing a forehand down the line winner after being forced to take the shot virtually on a half volley. That helped him secure his third break of serve in the match before yet another hold to love gave the 17th seed a 3-0 lead in the third set.
At this point, Federer was flying, with the forehand looking deadly as it continued to burst through Nadal’s defences, bringing up two break points. The Spaniard saved both before saving a third with an ace down the middle as the ninth seed looked to escape with the hold. Eventually, the 2009 champion came through on his fourth game point as he struck a forehand winner down the line to keep his hopes of winning the third set alive. After that battle in a game which lasted over eight minutes, Federer responded with a hold to love in a minute and 25 seconds to move 4-1 in front, looking in control in the final at this stage.
The pressure being applied by Federer was too much for Nadal to handle as the Swiss continued to rip through his backhand. The former world number one hit a crushing return of serve cross court into the corner, which the Spaniard could not retrieve, as the 17th seed secured a double break. Nadal tried to hang on in the Swiss’ next service game after a double fault presented him break point, but Federer left him stunned as he struck a forehand winner from a few meters behind the baseline. The former champion subsequently squandered his first set point after putting an attempted drop shot into the net, before staving off another break point with a big first serve. There was to be no mistake this time from one of the greatest players of all time as he eventually closed with a drop volley to wrap up the third set, 6-1.
The pendulum swings back in Nadal's favor
The fourth set saw yet another momentum shift as Nadal secured the first break early on to take a 3-1 lead. The following game was a key one as the Spaniard immediately found himself facing two break points. The ninth seed duly responded, saving both before prevailing to hold and move 4-1 in front as Nadal continued to pump himself up. The sixth game was a bizarre one for Federer as an overhead that sailed way past the baseline left him in trouble at 30-30 and eventually, a break point down. With the shadow of the prospect of a fifth and final set looming large over Federer the Swiss kicked back into gear, snuffing out the chance and holding to stay in touch. Just a second hold to love in the match for Nadal followed, taking him just one game away from leveling the final once again as he moved 5-2 in front.
Federer diced with danger at deuce on serve on the brink of losing the set, but the Swiss came through, ensuring that if Nadal did wrap up the set, he would at least get to serve to start the decider. That was the scenario which came to fruition as just like he had done when serving for the second set, Nadal held to love after the 17th seed hit a backhand into the net, securing the set, 6-3.
Nadal maintains his momentum at the start of the fifth
Both players went off court at the end of the fourth set for a comfort break but Federer also received an off court medical time out as he had done so against Stanislas Wawrinka in his semifinal win. Returning to court to serve first, it appeared that it had affected the 17th seed as found himself facing two break points immediately. The Swiss saved the first with a forehand down the line winner, but the Spaniard sensed blood and took the second chance after his opponent went wide with the forehand.
With both players giving it their all, leaving it all out on the court, Federer let out a huge roar after striking a scintillating backhand cross court winner to bring up two break back points. Nadal was stung into action, saving the first with an excellent serve before saving the other with an inside-in forehand up the line winner. The Spaniard had to save a third, but did so and came through the game with flying colors to inflict more damage on the 17th seed, moving 2-0 in front in the decider.
The third game was another long battle after a double fault followed by a backhand winner got Federer involved in the game at 30-30. A well-executed body serve got Nadal to game point but the Swiss hung tough and struck another backhand winner down the line to get a break point of his own. Having played a well-constructed point on his part, the ninth seed was just too strong as he cracked a backhand cross court winner before coming up with big serves to hold and close in on his 15th major title.
After another hold from Federer, he asked the question of the Spaniard once again, bringing up break points to add to the pressure on Nadal. The ninth seed saved the first with a forehand winner but after the Swiss hit another outstanding backhand cross court winner to reach break point, the 2009 champion finally cracked as he put a forehand just wide to relinquish the break. Another hold to love from the 17-time Grand Slam champion saw him move ahead for the first time in the final set at 4-3.
The momentum was now firmly with the Swiss as he piled more pressure on Nadal at 0-30. Serving with this immense pressure on him, the Spaniard cracked, serving just his third double fault of the match to go down 0-40. The ninth seed responded in some style, saving all three break points to keep his hopes alive. An amazing 26-shot rally resulted in triumph for Federer and he used that momentum to secure a crucial break of serve, giving the Swiss the chance to serve for the title.
Nadal was not giving up without a fight, however, and moved to 0-30 on Federer’s serve. Three points in a row took him to his first championship point, before the 17th seed was deemed to have double-faulted. After a successful challenge, the call was overturned but he went long with the forehand. The Swiss would later secure it in style though, sealing it with a glorious cross court forehand winner, although there was a delay after Nadal challenged the call. But in the end, the ball hit the line and that was the moment for Federer to bask in the glory and celebrate securing an unprecedented 18th Grand Slam title.