Tennis

Tears flow, joy overflows for Federer

Swiss veteran turns emotional after securing 20th Grand Slam title

Even after 20 Grand Slam titles, the tears gushing down Roger Federer's cheeks after winning his sixth Australian Open crown yesterday showed that the competitive fires still rage within the 36-year-old Swiss.

Having regained control to put down sixth seed Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena, Federer promptly lost it at the end of his victory speech.

"And my team, I love you guys. Thank you," Federer, cradling the Norman Brookes Cup, said with a quivering voice before breaking down in tears.

The show of emotion triggered a standing ovation in the terraces, the tears spreading to his wife Mirka and parents in the players' box.

Tennis great Rod Laver, 79, snapped the moment on his mobile phone for posterity.

Joining Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson as the only men to win six Australian Open trophies, Federer also emulated Laver by winning his fourth Grand Slam title after his 30th birthday.

I had a great run to the final (in 2006) and was a huge favourite going in... I was just so relieved when everything was said and done... I felt the same way tonight. That is why I couldn't speak, it was terrible. Roger Federer

"It is a different emotion, clearly. The first (Grand Slam title) is like, 'Oh my god! I was able to win one'," Federer

told host broadcaster Channel Seven in front of hundreds of fans at Melbourne Park's Garden Square.

"The rest now doesn't really matter at this point. This one here tonight reminded me more of maybe the 2006 win when I beat (Marcos) Baghdatis in the final.

"I had a great run to the final (in 2006) and was a huge favourite going in... I was just so relieved when everything was said and done... I felt the same way tonight.

"That is why I couldn't speak, it was terrible."

NERVES

Having qualified for an astonishing 30th Grand Slam final, Federer admitted that nerves had got the better of him during a scorching hot day as he waited to take his place for the evening match.

"My thoughts were all over the place. All day I was thinking 'What if I lost? What if I won?' Every minute of the day," he said. "Thank God I slept to 11."

The nerves returned for the Swiss at several stages through the 3hr 3min clash and he felt the trophy slipping from his grasp after the fourth set.

He had to save two break-points in an epic service game at the start of the fifth set before riding the momentum home as Cilic's power game wavered.

"At the end of the second (set), I got nervous and that is the reason I lost the second set, and I couldn't take control of the match," added Federer.

"It got tight and Marin held me out in the third and the fifth. I got lucky tonight."

He's certainly playing as well as he did eight or 10 years ago... I wouldn't say he's better, but Roger Federer is playing some of his best tennis. Not all the time maybe, but close to all the time. Tennis great Rod Laver

Before the final, Laver had said the ageless Roger Federer is playing as well as he was a decade ago and he can't see the Swiss master calling it quits any time soon.

Laver, an 11-time Grand Slam champion who has been watching Federer's progress at Melbourne Park this year, said that he was as good as he's ever been.

"He's certainly playing as well as he did eight or 10 years ago," Laver told Melbourne's Herald Sun ahead of yesterday final.

"I wouldn't say he's better, but Roger is playing some of his best tennis. Not all the time maybe, but close to all the time."

A decade ago, Federer, who cites Laver as his idol, was virtually untouchable, reaching 18 of 19 consecutive Grand Slam finals between Wimbledon in 2005 and the 2010 Australian Open.

Laver said that Federer is now "playing smarter".

"You learn when you're playing an opponent or you see him a lot, he sees weaknesses that other people don't see," he said.

"That's the difference between Roger and the field."

And given the Swiss star's continued love of the game, Laver doesn't see him ending his career any time soon.

"He's enjoying it more. It's another edge," he said.

"When he's hitting a backhand down the line, if he sees that happening still, that will keep him going for another year." - REUTERS, AFP