MELBOURNE -  Roger Federer came out on top after a rollercoaster ride in the 35th chapter of his rivalry with Rafa Nadal to win his fifth Australian Open 6-4 3-6 6-1 3-6 6-3 and clinch a first grand slam title in four and a half years on Sunday.

The 35-year-old capped his triumphant return from knee surgery with a record-extending 18th major title after a vintage battle with his Spanish rival, who had won all three of their previous meetings at Melbourne Park. Lefthander Nadal, also returning from injury this year, showed sustained periods of his brutal best from the baseline but was just unable to stay with his rival in the gut-wrenching drama of the deciding set.

Federer was forced to endure a nervous wait for his victory after Nadal unsuccessfully challenged the line call on the second championship point before becoming the first man to win five or more titles at three different grand slams. The Swiss, for many the greatest player of all time, celebrated with tears in his eyes but his first words were for his old friend and rival.

"Tennis is a tough sport, there are no draws in tennis but I would have been happy to accept one tonight and share it with Rafa," he said. "I would have been happy to lose to be honest, the comeback was as good as it was. I hope to see you next year but if not, then it was a wonderful year here and I couldn't be happier tonight."

Nadal, the 2009 champion, was also typically gracious after losing his third Melbourne final and coming up short in his bid for a 15th grand slam title. "It was a great match and I think Roger probably deserved it a little more than me," the 30-year-old said. "I played a great quality of tennis. That's great news for me. I believe that if I have my body in the right condition, I can have a great year."

Federer made the slower start to the contest but it was the Swiss who made the first breakthrough, converting the first break point of the match with a forehand winner to go 5-4 up. That was enough to take the opening set but this was never going to be a straightforward win for either player and Nadal was all over his opponent's serve at the start of the second and grabbed a 2-0 lead.

Federer had two break points in the next game but Nadal fought them off and then broke again as his rival struggled for accuracy under the Spaniard's onslaught. Four big forehands gave the Swiss a break back but Nadal held firm to serve out the set and Federer needed three aces to save three break points at the start of the third.

The momentum had swung, though, and Federer stepped up a gear and rattled off the next two games with Nadal left scrambling to fend off a second break in a marathon fourth game. He was unable to repeat the feat in the sixth game and Federer, his crosscourt backhand causing Nadal all sorts of problems, secured a two sets to one lead with a drop volley.

The pendulum had not finished swinging yet, however, and Nadal broke for 3-1 in the fourth and held under huge pressure in the next game with a brilliant crosscourt forehand winner at full stretch. Nadal again closed out the set and Federer took a medical timeout before the start of the decider, returning to court only to give up his first service game.

Federer was not prepared to give up easily on a first grand slam title since Wimbledon in 2012, though, and upped his aggression to put the set back on serve at 3-3 when Nadal sent a rasping forehand wide. He needed another five break points on Nadal's next service game before the Spaniard finally cracked as Federer sealed the title with a forehand winner that Hawk-Eye confirmed hit the line.

"In the fifth set, I didn't win one serve easily. Even if I played great in the break points, I was suffering a lot," said Nadal. "He probably remained a little bit more free on points on my serve. That's what I needed in that moment, and I didn't have."

With Federer's contemporary Serena Williams having won the women's title for the seventh time on Saturday, the 2017 Australian Open is destined to be remembered as the retro slam. Federer gave a reminder that no one is immune to the ravages of time, however. "Now it's time to celebrate in a massive way," he said. "(But) at 35 years old, I don't like to say it, but I'm so old and so the body hurts, it aches."

 

 

SET 1 - FEDERER 6-4, 34 MINUTES

In a tense atmosphere at Rod Laver Arena, the final goes with serve until game seven, when a Federer volley sets up two break points and he breaks as Nadal fires a backhand wide. It's all Federer needs to take a one-set lead as he serves it out, sealing the set with an ace.

SET 2 - NADAL 6-3, 42 MINUTES

Nadal puts Federer under pressure in his first service game and his one-handed backhand cracks under the pressure of the Spaniard's heavy forehands, as he nets when facing his second break point. Federer then works two break-back points in Nadal's next service game, but he miscues with his forehand each time. Another forehand error hands Nadal the double break and despite Federer getting a break back, Nadal levels the match on another mistake from the Swiss's forehand.

SET 3 - FEDERER 6-1, 41 MINUTES

Federer produces three aces to stave off three break points in a 10-minute opening game, and he immediately makes Nadal pay when he breaks him in the next game. Nadal saves more break points at 0-3 down but he is broken again for 1-5 when Federer creams a superb backhand return winner. Federer, when serving for the set, faces down a break point with a service winner before he grabs a 2-1 sets lead with a cool backhand volley.

SET 4 - NADAL 6-3, 40 MINUTES

Nadal comes roaring back and he breaks Federer in game four when the Swiss puts a backhand volley into the net. The Spaniard holds brilliantly in the fourth game when he retrieves a deep Federer backhand and flicks it back for a crosscourt winner that draws applause from his opponent. Federer aces twice to see off another break point and hold for 2-4 down, but the set is Nadal's and he converts the first of three set points to force the decider.

SET 5 - FEDERER 6-3, 61 MINUTES

Federer returns from a medical time-out and he's immediately broken to go 0-1 down when he sprays a forehand wide. Nadal fights off three break points in the next game and he moves to 2-1 up before Federer has treatment to his right thigh at the changeover. Nadal produces a big backhand winner to survive a break point in game four but Federer breaks back in the sixth when the Spaniard flashes a forehand narrowly wide. At 3-4 down, Nadal bravely saves four break points but on the fifth, Federer's wide, sharply angled backhand return is too much for the Spaniard to get back over the net. Serving for the championship, Federer saves two break points before he finally clinches it on his second match point, despite a despairing Hawk-Eye challenge from Nadal.

 

FINAL STATS

 

Time: 3hr 38min

Federer                                Nadal

20           Aces      4

3              Double Faults    3

73           Winners               35

57           Unforced Errors                28

6/20       Break Point Conversions               4/17

150         Total Points Won              139

 

FEDERER'S GRAND SLAM TITLES

YEAR      TOURNAMENT  OPPONENT         SCORE

 

2003       Wimbledon        Mark Philippoussis          7-6 (7/5), 6-2, 7-6 (7/3)

2004       Australian Open               Marat Safin         7-6 (7/3), 6-4, 6-2

2004       Wimbledon        Andy Roddick    4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4

2004       US Open              Lleyton Hewitt  6-0, 7-6 (7/3), 6-0

2005       Wimbledon        Andy Roddick    6-2, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4

2005       US Open              Andre Agassi      6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7/1), 6-1

2006       Australian Open               Marcos Baghdatis            5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2

2006       Wimbledon        Rafael Nadal       6-0, 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (2/7), 6-3

2006       US Open              Andy Roddick    6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1

2007       Australian Open               Fernando Verdasco        7-6 (7/2), 6-4, 6-4

2007       Wimbledon        Rafael Nadal       7-6 (9/7), 4-6, 7-6 (7/3), 2-6, 6-2

2007       US Open              Novak Djokovic 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/2), 6-4

2008       US Open              Andy Murray     6-2, 7-5, 6-2

2009       French Open      Robin Soderling                6-1, 7-6 (7/1), 6-4

2009       Wimbledon        Andy Roddick    5-7, 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 16-14

2010       Australian Open               Andy Murray     6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (13/11)

2012       Wimbledon        Andy Murray     4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4

2017       Australian Open               Rafael Nadal       6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3