Roger Federer is once more the Australian Open champion, defeating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to win his record-tying sixth championship in Melbourne and his 20th major title overall, the first man to ever accomplish that feat.
Playing in his record 30th major final, the Swiss held off an impressive fightback from the Croat after leading two sets to one and 3-1 in the fourth set, pegging Cilic back in the fifth set to claim the championship.
Federer runs away with the first set
With much anticipation, the final got underway, but it was an ominous beginning for the Croat as he dumped an overhead on break point to lose serve straightaway.
Cilic couldn't have asked for a worse start and the hole was dug even deeper as the Croat pulled a forehand wide to fall behind 3-0, double-break. He finally got on the board with a nervy hold, but the writing was on the wall.
With Federer having such an easy time on serve, it was unlikely that Cilic would produce a comeback and indeed at 5-2, the Swiss served up consecutive aces to set up two set points, taken on the first attempt as the world number six ballooned a backhand wide.
Cilic takes second set tiebreak to level match
It was a much brighter start to the second set for Cilic as he held and created his first break points at 15-40, but an ace and a forehand winner erased both chances, eventually leading to a Federer hold.
With the Swiss holding so easily, it was imperative that Cilic keep pace, but he looked to be in trouble facing a break point, but a big serve got him out of trouble, leading to a hold for a 3-2 lead.
Federer earned another chance to expand his advantage in the ninth game, but a well-timed second serve ace allowed Cilic to escape trouble and hold. The Swiss would eventually rue his missed opportunities.
A love hold from each player sent the set to a tiebreak and after the first six points went the way of the server, it was Federer who achieved the first mini-break, but after a pair of uncharacteristic errors, it was now Cilic who was now in front.
He blasted a forehand to set up two set points at 6-4 and after the world number two saved the first with an ace, the Croat crushed a smash past Federer to claim the tiebreaker and level the match at one set all.
Federer claims third set to move closer to the title
Things started routinely enough in the third set with five straight holds before Federer made his move. Setting up 0-40, the Swiss misfires with a backhand on his first chance, but a Cilic forehand sent wide now puts the 19-time major champion up 4-2, the Croat perhaps showing signs of fatigue.
A bit of trouble early on in his next service game is wiped away with more clutch serving and Federer goes on to a hold to 30 for a 5-2 lead. Credit to Cilic as he held to love, forcing the Swiss to serve out the set, duly taken with an ace on set point, a hold to love and a two sets to one lead.
Cilic produces stunning fightback to take the fourth set
It didn't look like there was much left in this final after Federer broke to open the fourth set, a Cilic slice weakly butchered into the net. Another quick hold and a double-fault from the sixth seed put the Swiss on the verge of a 3-0 lead.
A thumping forehand produces a winner and a gutsy hold gives Cilic the slightest bit of hope, but at 3-1 down, the situation remained dire. Stunningly, it was 0-40 in the fifth game game, Federer double-faulting to set up the three break chances. Cilic only needs one, the forehand doing the damage to break back.
Suddenly, things swung the Croat's way. A break point saved and a 15-40 lead, both saved by the Swiss stopped the rot temporarily. Given another chance to claim the lead, Cilic made no mistake, his forehand on target again to take a 5-3 lead.
Serving to push the final to a fifth set, Cilic starts out with a sumptuous volley winner, draws a backhand error for a 30-0 love lead and consecutive big serves give him a love hold to put the championship in the balance at two sets all.
Federer escapes early fifth set trouble, cruises to 20th major title
It appeared Cilic may foil the hopes of the Swiss and an immediate break point signals a further shift in this match, but the Croat nets a second-serve forehand return and a second chance is by the boards on the strength of more strong serving by Federer.
That allowed him to hold and a smart challenge of a second serve at deuce brings up break point for the world number two, summarily taken when the Cilic forehand can again only find the bottom of the net.
It wasn't for lack of trying as the Croat continued to extend Federer on serve, but more errors off the ground give Federer an escape route and a 3-0 lead.
After a quick hold to get on the board, the sixth seed seemed to run out of steam and four unforced errors in his next service game give the Swiss a 5-1 lead, the outcome now a formality.
Serving for the championship, an ace, a pair of missed forehands and the Swiss is at 40-0, three opportunities to close out his 20th major title. He only needs one, a backhand from the Croat crashing long and the title was Federer's.
Federer was made to work for this title as Cilic extended him to the point of almost needing to climb out of an early fifth set hole. Credit to him that he forced the Croat to make errors at the key moments and his resilence showed after the disappointment of dropping that fourth set when he was so close to victory. We won't see him on the Grand Slam stage again until Wimbledon, but let's savor every chance we get to watch this living legend at his best.
Credit must be given to Cilic for showing his toughness and character for the fight he showed in pushing this final to a fifth set. His forehand brought him back, but in the end, fatigue in that final set was his undoing, a product of over 19 hours on court coming into the final.
Up to number three in the rankings, a new career high, Cilic can take heart that if he continues to produce performances like this in majors, a second Grand Slam title will undoubtedly come his way.