MELBOURNE — Defending champion Roger Federer stole another piece of tennis history at the Australian Open on Sunday night when he became the first man to win 20 Grand Slam titles.
The second-seeded Federer’s 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over sixth-seeded Marin Cilic allows Federer to join Margaret Court (24), Serena Williams (23) and Steffi Graf (22) as the only players to capture at least 20 singles trophies at the majors.
“I’m so happy it’s unbelievable,” said Federer, who dissolved into tears by the end of his acceptance speech. “Winning is just an absolute dream come true. The fairytale continues. After the great win I had here last year, it’s incredible.”
Unlike Saturday night for the women’s match, when temperatures also seemed excessively hot, the Federer and Cilic encounter was played under the roof in deference to the steamy conditions.
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Federer’s now joined Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson as the only men to win the Australian Open on six occasions. Federer’s collection also includes multiple titles at all but the French Open: he’s reigned victorious at Wimbledon eight times and the U.S. Open five times.
Unlike Federer, who is now 20-10 in Grand Slam finals, Cilic stands at 1-2 in championship matches at the majors. Cilic’s one Grand Slam title came at the 2014 U.S. Open, which is also where he won the only match in 10 played against Federer in the semifinals.
What makes his recent achievements more sensational is Federer is 36 years, 173 days old on this final day at Melbourne Park.
He is now the third man along with Australians Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall to win four or more titles after joining the 30-and-over club. Federer’s three previous wins since he turned 30 are 2012 Wimbledon, and last year’s Australian Open and Wimbledon.
The statistics for the 3-hour, 3-minute match found Federer posting 24 aces, four double faults, 41 winners and 40 unforced errors, while Cilic had 16 aces, five double faults, 45 winners and 64 unforced errors
Federer was so dominant in the 24-minute first set that it looked like he was in for another easy victory over Cilic, similar to last year’s Wimbledon final when the Croat, suffering with blisters, had little to offer.
Federer, ahead 2-sets-to-1, had a 2-0 lead and a break point to go up 3-0 in the fourth set.
The Swiss might have looked ready to celebrate, but Cilic wasn’t quite ready to capitulate.
Cilic saved his serve in that third game, and from 3-1 for Federer, CIlic won the next five games to force the decisive fifth set.
Unfortunately for Cilic, he left all his mojo in the fourth set, and once he lost out on two break points opportunities on Federer’s serve in the first game of the final set, it was all but over.
Federer raced to a 3-0 lead when Cilic held serve in the fourth game, which would be his final statement in the match.
Cilic tried one last gasp to stay alive by challenging the final call of the match, but Federer had nothing to worry about. He would be packing his 20th Grand Slam trophy in his suitcase to take home to his trophy room.