It was billed as a clash of two legends. It came through on that promise. 

Now, Roger Federer has secured his 18th Grand Slam singles title, after besting career-long rival Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 at the Australian Open. 

The opening set was tight between Federer, the 35-year-old #17 seed, and Nadal, the 30-year-old #9. Silky smooth play from the Swiss titan negated a powerful Nadal, as Federer took the set 6-4 in just over half an hour.

It was truly vintage stuff from both of ’em. Watching the two duke it out over the first few points – as Federer silently returned Nadal’s ferocious serves, one after another – was some nostalgic goodness. 

The next half hour played out mighty differently. Peppering his game with a few unfortunate errors, Fed-Ex himself loosened under pressure from Nadal. The Spaniard asserted his way to a 4-0 lead. Despite Federer grinding just a little bit back, Nadal saw it out 6-3. 

Aaand then, it flipped right back. The bloke whom David Foster Wallace once described as “a creature whose body is both flesh and, somehow, light” took three unanswered games. Only a ridiculous rally saw Nadal claw one back. In no bloody time, that became 4-1. Then 5-1.

We mean, just look at this. Madness.

A struggle for the final game of the set was tied up by some mystical stuff near the net from Federer. 6-1. 

Because this match was always going to become a timeless goddamned classic, Nadal fought back. Again. The net-side magic needs time to recharge, we guess.

In the fourth game, Nadal decided his was charged up, capping another brutal rally off with this ludicrous outstretched shot to catch Federer offguard. What even.

With that gauntlet laid the hell down, Federer responded to take another one back. Nadal wasn’t having it, clocking another game, relinquishing one, before going HAM to take it 6-3.

The grind set in during the fifth set. With the effort of several millennia of tennis weighing on both contenders, Nadal still managed to take advantage of his most loyal foe – until bloody Roger struggled back to 3-3. He held Nadal to love for another game of his own.

As the crowd surged behind Federer, so did his game. Despite a brutal serve to work his way back from the cliff, Nadal couldn’t help Federer’s insane drive. When the opportunity arose, Federer capitalised.

Grand Slam #18.

What a match. What a champion. What champions, actually.

Source: Australian Open.
Photo: Clive Brunskill / Getty.