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Federer loses in epic Australian Open final

(swissinfo.ch)

Switzerland's Roger Federer has failed in his quest for a record-tying 14th grand slam title in a dramatic five-set final against Rafael Nadal in Melbourne.

The top-seeded Spaniard beat Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7:3), 3-6, 6-2 at the Australian Open Tennis Championships in a match that lasted into the early hours of Monday morning.

For the first four sets, the world's two top ranked players traded spectacular shots in a tour de force that even eclipsed their match-up at Wimbledon last July.

But Nadal, who had come off a marathon semifinal match against countryman Fernando Verdasco, dominated the deciding set in a manner that seemed to confirm his status as king of the men's singles game.

Federer, resting on his bench after four hours and 23 minutes of play, appeared resigned.

"Thank you for your support," Switzerland's tennis hero told a roaring crowd after the match but managed only a few moments of silence more before his voice faltered and the tears came.

"Maybe I'll try later," Federer said a few minutes afterwards. "I don't want to have the last word. This guy deserves it."

Dominant

The 27-year-old Federer, so dominant when he won three of the four majors in both 2006 and 2007, has now lost finals on three different surfaces to Nadal.

Nadal has won five of the seven Grand Slam finals he's played against Federer and is 13-6 overall against the Swiss star. He becomes the first Spaniard to win the Australian title.

Nadal beat Federer in the last French Open and Wimbledon finals and replaced him as the world's best player last August after winning the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.

Federer, who turned around his last season with a US Open title, saved two championship points from 15-40 in the eighth game of the fifth set but sent a forehand long on the third match point.

Nadal flopped onto his back, then got up and raced to shake hands.

The players put an arm around the other's shoulder at the net as they walked off the court.

More points

Although Federer actually won one more point – 174-173 – his serve let him down all too frequently. He connected on only 51 per cent of his first serves, and it seemed all of his six double-faults came at critical times.

And as the pressure ratcheted up in the fifth set, it was Federer who wilted, not Nadal. Federer had six winners and 14 unforced errors in the set, while Nadal had just two unforced errors and dropped only three points in four service games.

With more Swiss flags than Spanish national colours, the crowd was buzzing even during warm-ups.

Despite flashes of brilliance, what they got wasn't always great tennis early, but there was no shortage of drama.

Both players started tight, committing uncharacteristic errors. Knowing that weak shots would be punished, they were pushing the limits.

They exchanged service breaks in the first two games. Normally calm on court, Federer pumped his fist after breaking for a 4-2 lead only to double-fault when facing break point in the next game.

Nadal got the key break with Federer serving at 5-5. The crowd was stunned when he smacked a forehand wide on an easy short ball to make it 15-40, and Nadal followed with a forehand passing shot winner, then held for the set.

With Nadal seemingly getting to everything and ripping winners, Federer was looking tentative and hesitating to charge the net.

Back-and-forth

But he started putting winners together and cutting his mistakes in the second set. After Nadal broke for a 4-3 lead, Federer broke the Spaniard's next two service games, taking a 5-3 lead after converting his fifth break point of the game. He then held to level the match.

Then the level intensified. One fan shouted: "Make him work, Roger". But he showed few signs of fatigue.

Amid a series of rallies lasting more than 20 shots, Nadal saved six break points in his last two service games in the third set, and Federer fended off a set point while serving at 5-6.

A lunging backhand volley winner gave Nadal a 6-3 lead in the tiebreaker, earning him chants of "Rafa!" and Federer double-faulted.

Federer saved five break points while serving at 2-2 in the fourth set and then broke Nadal in the next game for a 4-2 edge.

He closed with a service winner to even it at two sets apiece.

Nadal broke Federer for a 3-1 lead and the clock ticked past midnight in the next game, taking the Australian Open into a third week.

It was the first men's final to go to five sets since Mats Wilander beat Pat Cash in 1988, the first at Melbourne Park.

swissinfo with agencies

Federer

Age: 27

Match record: 626-151

Career singles titles: 57

Grand slam titles: 13

Australian Open (2004, 2006, 2007)

Wimbledon (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007)

US Open (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008)

Past six Australian Opens: Federer lost in the semi-finals in 2005 and 2008 and went out in the fourth round in 2003.

end of infobox

Australian Open

The Australian Open is one of four grand slam tournaments of the ATP circuit.

The others are the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

Australia's Rod Laver is the only man to win all four grand slam events in the same year (1969). Steffi Graf did it in 1988 (also winning the Olympic Gold for a "Golden Slam").

Federer has clinched three of the grand slam tournaments three times (2004, 2006 and 2007), but has never won the French Open.

end of infobox


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