MELBOURNE – An emotional Roger Federer choked up in the closing stages of the trophy presentation on Sunday after creating more tennis history by winning an unprecedented 20th grand slam title with his victory at the Australian Open.
The Swiss set a new standard by beating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to win a sixth Melbourne trophy from his seventh final at the venue.
“During the match I constantly thought about the fact that I could reach 20,” he told Swiss television. “I was nervous the whole day. I thought about what would happen if I lose, if I win. That’s why I broke down during the speech.”
Federer, 36, felt his voice cracking and brushed away tears of happiness while paying his respects to the crowd during the presentation after a three-hour victory over Cilic, who will rise to third in the world.
“I’m so happy, it’s unbelievable,” Federer said. “It’s a long day to wait for a night final, you think about the match all day. It’s easier to play in the afternoon.
”I’m happy it’s over now – either way. The win is a dream come true, the fairytale continues. After a great 2017, this is incredible.“
Federer also paid tribute to his Croatian opponent: “Marin had a great event. Congratulations on becoming number three – that’s a hell of an achievement. Keep doing what you are doing.“
Federer, already the men’s record-holder for Grand Slam victories, is now the first man to win 20 majors. Only Margaret Court, Serena Williams and Steffi Graf have won more majors.
The match was played with the stadium roof closed due to temperatures that topped 100 degrees, with night levels not getting below 82.
The five-set match featured several twists, with Federer sweeping the opener with two breaks to wrap up the set in 24 minutes.
Cilic, who lost a Wimbledon final in straight sets to Federer last July, owns just one win from 10 meetings with Federer, a U.S. Open semifinal in 2014.
The Croatian got out of trouble by winning the second set in a tiebreaker only to see Federer strike back by taking the third.
The pair alternated as Cilic pulled even at two sets each.
But Federer started the fifth set with a break and piled on another before clinching the record-setting win on the first of three match points on Cilic’s return error.
“I’m feeling a little bit obviously disappointed, which is normal,“ Cilic said. “It was a big battle, five sets. I managed to turn it around.
“In the fourth set, it was a big boost for me with the game that I played on 3-2 when he was serving. Then that lifted me a lot up. I started to play great tennis.
“I was hitting the ball great. I was just playing phenomenal. Then first game of the fifth set was more or less crucial at the end with having those four break points that I didn’t convert.
“It just ran away from me. But I’m really happy with the performance. It was difficult with conditions.”
Federer said that his thoughts may have intruded onto his tennis at points during the tight match.
“I got off a flyer, but I froze a bit in the tiebreaker at the end of the second set. I got nervous and couldn’t take control.
“I got tight but Marin helped me a bit in the third and fifth sets (with errors). But he was calling the shots in the fourth.
“My mind was all over the place, I told myself not to mess it up.”
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