Roger Federer with his Australian Open trophy Image: AFP
Back where his career resurgence began with a drought-breaking title last year, Roger Federer cried as he lifted and kissed the Australian Open trophy for a sixth time and celebrated his 20th Grand Slam title.
Federer started with an intensity that stunned sixth-seeded Marin Cilic, then held his nerve in a tense, momentum-shifting final to win 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
After going four years without winning a major, Federer has now won three of the last five.
"I'm so happy. It's unbelievable," Federer said. "Of course, winning is an absolute dream come true — the fairytale continues for me — after the great year I had last year," he added, taking a deep breath and holding back tears, "It's incredible."
The great Rod Laver, who lends his name to the centre court at the Australian Open, was in the crowd taking photos to mark the occasion as Federer became the first man to win 20 majors.
The crowd at Rod Laver Arena loudly cheered Federer on as he neared his sixth Australian title, chanting his name between games and applauding Cilic's errors.
At the age of 36 years, 173 days, Federer became the second-oldest man to win a Grand Slam title in the Open era after Ken Rosewall, who won the 1972 Australian Open at 37.
"Big congratulations to Roger and his team — it's amazing what you guys do," Cilic said. "It was an amazing journey for me to come here to the final. I had a slight chance at the beginning of the fifth, but Roger played a great fifth set."
Federer was quick off the mark, getting service breaks in the first and third games and forcing Cilic to go to his equipment bag for a new racket after just 12 points. Federer only conceded two points on his serve in the opening set, which lasted just 24 minutes and was played under a closed roof because of the heat outside.
But Cilic rallied in the second, getting his big forehand working and, after missing a set point on Federer's serve in the 10th game, leveled the match in the tiebreaker.
Federer won the third set in 29 minutes and was up a break in the fourth but momentum swung fully again, with Cilic going on a roll to level the match. Federer's first-serve percentage plummeted from above 80 in the third set to 36 in the fourth as Cilic attacked.
Cilic had two chances to break Federer's serve in the first game of the fifth set, but wasted them both with two unforced errors.
He double-fauled twice in the second game to drop his own serve, giving Federer the decisive lead in the set.
Federer had won eight of their previous nine matches — his only defeat coming in the semifinals of the US Open in 2014, where Cilic claimed his first major title.
The Swiss great wasn't about to lose this one. Federer increased his level again, breaking Cilic again in the sixth game and then closing out at love — his celebrations delayed slightly by an unsuccessful challenge from Cilic on match point. It was a similar end to his five-set win over Rafael Nadal here last year and, just like 12 months ago, the tears flowed.