MELBOURNE: Roger Federer survived a second set ‘freeze’ and an onslaught from Croatia’s Marin Cilic to claim a record-equalling sixth Australian Open title on Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.
The Swiss maestro wobbled at times in the face of some fierce resistance before winning 6-2 6-7(5) 6-3 3-6 6-1.
With the stadium roof closed to keep out the withering Melbourne heat, the 36-year-old grabbed the first set in 24 minutes as a 20th grand slam title looked a formality.
But Cilic, who suffered a nightmare in last year’s Wimbledon final against Federer when blisters wrecked his chances, was not going to let his first Australian Open final slide by in a flash.
Despite fighting a lone battle against Federer and most of the crowd, he reeled off five consecutive games to extend the champion into a deciding set.
The outcome hung in the balance but Federer recovered his mojo after saving two break points at the start of the fifth and was roared home to victory by an adoring crowd.
Despite all his titles and accolades Federer was overcome with emotion during his victory speech.
“The fairytale continues for us, for me, it’s incredible,” Federer, who has equalled Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson’s Australian Open haul, said on court as wife Mirka and Australian great Rod Laver recorded to the moment with their mobile phones.
”I got off to a flyer but I froze in the tiebreak and lost that second set and lost control of the match.
“I got a bit lucky tonight I think.”
Federer’s renaissance has earned him three grand slams in the past 12 months after a five-year drought, emulating the feat of Ken Rosewall who also claimed three after his 35th birthday.
Cilic, who will rise to a career-high three in the rankings, managed only four points in the first four games, but despite precious little support amongst the shamelessly pro-Federer crowd, made sure the tournament ended with a proper contest.
“It was an amazing journey for me. It could have been the best two weeks of my life,” Cilic said.
“I had the chance at the beginning of the fifth but he played a great match.”
Temperatures in Melbourne had hovered in the high 30s Celsius all day but the humidity felt less suffocating than during Saturday’s humdinger of a women’s final.
So it was a surprise when the match started with the roof shut, a decision tournament organisers defended by issuing a statement saying “Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT)” readings had triggered the “extreme heat policy”.
While Melbourne Park cooked, Federer was as cool as a cucumber in the relatively benign conditions on court.
He broke in the first game when he hoisted a lob towards the roof and Cilic framed a smash into the net.
The 29-year-old Cilic dropped serve again two games later and gained sympathetic cheers when he finally registered on the scoreboard in the fifth game.
Cilic began to settle but still had to fend off break points in the second set at 1-1, 2-2 and 4-4.
He had a glorious chance to level the match against the run of play when Federer served a double fault at 30-30 in the 10th game, but he buried a routine backhand into the net.