Under the roof of the Rod Laver Arena, Roger Federer has become the first man in history to win a 20th grand slam title after defeating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, at the Australian Open.
In what was a repeat of last year’s Wimbledon final, Federer was pushed to his limits both mentally and physically. Having a seemingly one-sided lead wiped away by some warrior-like tennis produced from his rival. Nevertheless, the 36-year-old managed to prevail in the 183-minute encounter. Hitting 24 aces, 41 winners and 40 unforced errors. A stark contrast to Cilic’s winner-error ratio of 45-64.
“I’m so happy,” an emotional Federer said after the match. “Winning is an absolute dream come true. The fairytale continues for us, for me. After the great year I had last year, it’s incredible.”
Drama off the court
Prior to the encounter, officials sparked outcry after deciding that the final should be played under the roof, despite no rain occurring. Former players Greg Rusedski and Pat Cash both slammed the move by saying that it gave Federer the edge.
“One guy warms up indoors, other warms up outdoors before the finals. Roof is closed.” Rusedski wrote on Twitter.
“This is so wrong for a GS final which is an outdoor event, which means you should have to deal with the elements. So far one sided. I hope Cilic can get back into the match.”
The Australian Open hit back by saying the roof was close in accordance with their heat policy. Although the ambient temperature didn’t go over 40 degrees, which is part of their guidelines. In a statement, they later admitted that the decision was due to the ‘discretion of the referee.’
Based on advice, and the fact that the WBGT reading had been above the 32.5 threshold for a considerable period of time this afternoon, and was forecast to be at 32.5 at 8.30pm, the tournament referee used his discretion to invoke the heat policy, and closed the roof.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) 28 January 2018
Despite the argument off-court, it had little impact on Federer’s start to the match. From the onset it was one-way traffic in his favour. The 36-year-old settled into his 30th grand slam final almost instantly. Breaking Cilic twice at the start of the match to seal the opening set in just 24 minutes. Nerves were visible in Cilic’s game as he produced 12 unforced errors compared to Federer’s tally of three. On top of that, the Swiss player dropped just two points behind his serve.
It wasn’t until the second set where Federer got tested. Former US Open champion Cilic had two opportunities to break for a 2-0 lead, but was denied by more tenacious play from the world No.2. From then on, there was little to distinguish between the two as Cilic continued to gain momentum. The Croat battled his way to a set point opportunity at 5-4 following a Federer double fault, but failed to convert. Still undeterred, Cilic secured his the breakthrough in the tiebreaker when a blistering forehand shot elevated him to two more set points. It was on the second where he prevailed after hitting a smash at the net.
With history at stake, Federer managed to regain his stronghold in the match during the third. A Cilic backhand crashed into the net to reward Federer a trio of chances of break for a 4-2 lead. He did so on his second attempt after another error from his rival. Prompting a huge roar of ‘come on’ from the Swiss player. The two sets leads was then sealed with an ace out wide.
Nudging towards a record-equaling sixth Australian Open title, nerves began to unravel Federer. Enabling a resurgent Cilic to illustrate why he remains one of the most prominent players in men’s tennis. Displaying shots reminiscent of his run to the 2014 US Open title, the Croat dismantled the Federer serve with ease to force proceedings into a decider. Prompting an eruption of cheers from his fans in the crowd.
The tension inside the Rod Laver Arena reached its peak as history beckoned for whoever won the final. Once again, Federer got the lead in the cat and mouse chase by breaking for a 3-0 lead in the decider. This time the lead was enough to get him over the finish line. A Cilic forehand smashing into the net secured him another break to move him to a game away from history. Serving for grand slam title No.20, he achieved the milestone with a perfectly placed 140 km/h serve out wide. Prompting tears and jubilation from both him and his camp.
” I’d like to thank Marin, another great tournament. World No3, that’s a hell of an achievement.” Federer said in tribute to his opponent.
As tears fell down the face of the Swiss Maestro, he continued to praise those that has supported him. His team, his family and his fans.
“To all the fans. You fill the stadiums, you make me nervous, you make me go out and practice. I just want to thank you for everything.” He said.
“To my team, I love you guys.”
Runner-up Cilioc can seek some comfort in his Melbourne run. On Monday he will rise to third on the ATP Emirates rankings in what will be the highest position in his career. He is also one of only two players from his country to contest three major finals after Goran Ivanisevic.
“It was an amazing journey for me. It could have been the best two weeks of my life. I had the chance at the beginning of the fifth but he played a great match.” Said Cilic.
“My team have been unbelievable for the last two weeks. We started this year amazingly well and hopefully we can reach more finals and lift more trophies!”
Federer is only the third man to win a sixth Australian Open title. Following in the footsteps of Roy Emerson and Novak Djokovic.
Felix Auger-Aliassime Survives Australian Open Marathon
For a second time this week the Canadian was pushed but managed to win a tough four-set match against his Spanish opponent.
Felix Auger-Aliassime booked his spot in the third round of the Australian Open after beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 in a match that lasted four hours and 20 minutes.
The Montreal native hit 58 winners and served 28 aces while Davidovich Fokina hit 51 unforced errors. It is the second time the 21-year-old has reached the last 32 in Melbourne Park in what is his third appearence.
The first game of the match was a nervy one for the world number nine as it lasted six minutes and it involved him saving two breakpoints before being able to hold serve. The opener stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Fokina came up with an impressive passing shot to set up two more chances for the first break of serve of the match and this time managed to convert. Three games later the Canadian fought back and broke right back to go back on serve.
It was a tiebreak which decided the first set. The Montreal native jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Spaniard came back again to win the next four points but the Canadian responded again winning three straight points to take the breaker 7-4 and the first set.
The second set was another impressive performance on serve by both players and once again was decided by a back and forth breaker that this time was won by Davidovich Fokina to level the match.
The third frame was much the same as both players kept their level up and not much differentiated the two. This tiebreaker was much more straightforward as the Canadian jumped out to a 5-1 lead before closing out the third set 7-5 and taking two sets to one lead.
The fourth set stayed on serve until 2-1 when the world number 50 had a chance to break and was able to get it for a 3-1 lead before the Canadian was able to break back the following game to go back on serve.
For the fourth time, the set was decided by a tiebreaker and this one was super tight with the Canadian getting the crucial break to take a 4-3 lead and that one break was enough for him to serve it out.
Auger Aliassime will now face Dan Evans in the third round after the Brit was handed a walkover against Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech who pulled out of the match due to injury.
‘Best Feeling I’ve Ever Had’ – Underdog Christopher O’Connell Stuns Schwartzman At Australian Open
Prior to this week the 27-year-old had never won a main draw match at Melbourne Park or beaten a top 20 player.
World No.175 Christopher O’Connell has pulled off a major upset at the Australian Open by knocking out 13th seed Diego Schwartzman.
The 27-year-old wild card had only ever won one match in the main draw of a Grand Slam prior to this year but illustrated the talent that he has with a 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, win over Schwartzman. A player who is currently ranked 162 places above him in the rankings. Against the Argentine he fired a total of 44 winners and won 75% of his first service points on route to claiming his first win over a top 20 player.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had on a tennis court. I’ve been playing tennis since I was four. To have moments like this it’s a dream come true.” O’Connell said during his press conference.
Despite the straightforward score, the match itself was a marathon. The opener alone lasted for almost 90 minutes with the underdog saving three set points whilst down 4-5 before prevailing in the tiebreaker. Then in the following two sets he broke Schwartzman three times in total.
“I knew how crucial that first set was. It was really warming up out there. It was really a battle back and forth. It was crucial to get that first set, especially in the heat,” he said.
A late bloomer on the men’s Tour, the Australian started to make a breakthrough last year by reaching his first quarter-final at the Atlanta Open where he defeated Jannik Sinner. During that year he also reached the final of a French Challenger event before withdrawing due to injury and reached the second round of the US Open.
O’Connell, who has been ranked as high as 111th in the world, credits his coach for helping him reach new milestones in the sport. He is mentored by former player Marinko Matosevic who reached a ranking high of 39th back in 2013 and made more than $2M in prize money during his playing career.
“The process didn’t start yesterday. It’s been happening all of last year,” he stated.
“I’ve been working with Marinko. He’s just really confident with how I want to play tennis now. It’s the first time I’ve really had a one-on-one coach literally every day with me.’
“Marinko was such a great player. All his knowledge of the game, he’s just putting it onto me.”
Next up for O’Connell will be the in-form Maxime Cressy who lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Melbourne Summer Set just over a week ago. The American defeated Czech qualifier Tomáš Macháč 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5), in his second round match.
“I knew I had good results in me. It’s just being consistent. I felt today was a consistent match from me,” he reflected.
“But the biggest thing for me is just staying healthy, not having these injuries where I miss two months of tournaments. I nearly missed five or six months last year. I can’t be doing that.’
“The belief is always there, but I just got to make sure my body’s healthy this year. I want to play a full year.”
French Player Tests Positive For COVID-19 Hours After Australian Open Defeat
The world No.40 was preparing to leave the country.
Ugo Humbert is in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 following his first round loss at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
Humbert, who was the 29th seed in the men’s draw, is understood to have produced a positive result during a routine procedure players have to conduct before they leave the country. It is unclear as to if he is currently suffering from any symptoms.
Humbert crashed out of the tournament to compatriot Richard Gasquet, who won their match 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6 (3), 6-3, in three hours and 18 minutes. Gasquet also tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Australia earlier this month but was given the all clear to play at Melbourne Park following a negative test. There was a 15-day period between the 35-year-old announcing on Twitter he had the virus and his first match against Humbert.
“I was tested positive on my exit test yesterday and I’ll stay one more week in isolation in Australia,” Humbert wrote on Instagram.
“Thanks for your support and see you soon.”
The 23-year-old has started his season by winning one out of four matches played. Prior to the Australian Open, he scored one of the biggest wins of his career by defeating Daniil Medvedev at the ATP Cup in the group stages. However, following that victory he suffered losses to Alex de Minaur and Matteo Berrettini.
Tennis Australia is yet to comment on Humbert’s positive test.
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