Tennis: Federer drops hints that the end may be nigh

Switzerland's Roger Federer celebrates with the championship trophy during the awards ceremony after his victory against Spain's Rafael Nadal in the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
PHOTO: AFP

Roger Federer dropped hints that his great career may be drawing to a close after his age-defying win over his Grand Slam nemesis Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open.

The 35-year-old Swiss admitted his return to Melbourne wasn't guaranteed after he ended a five-year wait for his 18th major title by beating Nadal in a thrilling five-setter.

He told the Rod Laver Arena crowd: "I hope to see you next year, but if not, then it was a wonderful year here and I couldn't be happier tonight." Federer has been rebutting suggestions of retirement for several years, but he said he was now aware injuries could force him off the scene.

The Australian Open marked his comeback from a six-month injury break, the longest of his career, after he underwent surgery for the first time last February.

Federer beats Nadal to win 18th Grand Slam title

  • Roger Federer of Switzerland arrives holding the championship trophy for a photo opportunity the day after winning the Australian Open men's singles final for this 18th career Grand Slam in Melbourne on January 30, 2017.
  • Roger Federer of Switzerland (R) speaks to the press during a photo opportunity the day after winning the Australian Open men's singles tennis final for this 18th career Grand Slam in Melbourne on January 30, 2017.
  • Roger Federer of Switzerland talks to media while holding the championship trophy the day after winning the Australian Open men's singles final for his 18th career Grand Slam in Melbourne on January 30, 2017.
  • Roger Federer of Switzerland (R) talks with Craig Tiley, CEO of Australia Tennis, as he arrives for a photo opportunity with the championship trophy the day after winning the Australian Open men's singles final for this 18th career Grand Slam in Melbourne on January 30, 2017.
  • Roger Federer of Switzerland (R) and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley (L) walk to a photo opportunity the day after the Swiss player won the Australian Open men's singles final for his 18th career Grand Slam in Melbourne on January 30, 2017.
  • Roger Federer of Switzerland poses with the championship trophy during a photo opportunity the day after winning the Australian Open men's singles final for his 18th career Grand Slam in Melbourne on January 30, 2017.
  • Roger Federer of Switzerland holds the championship trophy as he meets fans during a photo opportunity the day after winning the Australian Open men's singles final for this 18th career Grand Slam in Melbourne on January 30, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer speaks next to the championship trophy during a press conference after his victory against Spain's Rafael Nadal in the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 30, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer speaks next to the championship trophy during a press conference after his victory against Spain's Rafael Nadal in the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 30, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer celebrating with the championship trophy inside the locker room after his victory against Spain's Rafael Nadal in the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer celebrating with the championship trophy inside the locker room after his victory against Spain's Rafael Nadal in the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer (L) walks next to Spain's Rafael Nadal after his victory during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer (L) shakes hands with Spain's Rafael Nadal after his victory during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Winner Roger Federer of Switzerland (back to camera) embraces runner-up Rafael Nadal of Spain (facing) following the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer celebrates his victory against Spain's Rafael Nadal during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer celebrates his victory against Spain's Rafael Nadal during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Spain's Rafael Nadal (L) congratulates Switzerland's Roger Federer after Federer won their men's singles final match on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer (R) hugs Spain's Rafael Nadal after winning the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer hits a return against Spain's Rafael Nadal during their men's singles final match on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Spain's Rafael Nadal hits a return against Switzerland's Roger Federer during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer reacts after a point against Spain's Rafael Nadal during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates a point in the fifth set against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts after a point against Switzerland's Roger Federer during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer reacts after a point against Spain's Rafael Nadal during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer hits a return against Spain's Rafael Nadal during their men's singles final match on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return against Roger Federer of Switzerland during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Spain's Rafael Nadal hits a return against Switzerland's Roger Federer during their men's singles final match on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer reacts after a point against Spain's Rafael Nadal during their men's singles final match on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return against Roger Federer of Switzerland during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Roger Federer of Switzerland serves against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return against Roger Federer of Switzerland during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Roger Federer of Switzerland hits a return against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Spain's Rafael Nadal hits a return against Switzerland's Roger Federer during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer hits a return against Spain's Rafael Nadal during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Rafael Nadal of Spain serves against Roger Federer of Switzerland during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer serves against Spain's Rafael Nadal during their men's singles final match on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return against Roger Federer of Switzerland during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Roger Federer of Switzerland hits a return volley to take the third set against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts after a point against Switzerland's Roger Federer during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • Switzerland's Roger Federer serves against Spain's Rafael Nadal during the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • The skyline of Melbourne is pictured at sunset as Roger Federer of Switzerland plays against Rafael Nadal of Spain in the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.
  • The skyline of Melbourne is pictured at sunset as Roger Federer of Switzerland plays against Rafael Nadal of Spain in the men's singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2017.

"This is all about, you know, knowing that I have only so much tennis left in me," he told reporters when asked about the comment in his acceptance speech.

"If I do get injured, you know, maybe if I miss next year, who knows what happens... You never know when your next Grand Slam is going to be, if ever.

"You never know if you're going to have an opportunity at this stage." Federer added: "Look, I've had a tough year last year. Three five-setters are not going to help. I just meant it the way I meant it.

"There wasn't something planned behind it, that this is my last Australian Open. I hope can I come back, of course. That's my hope right now." 

Federer, now four titles clear of Nadal and Pete Sampras on the all-time major-winners' list, was troubled by injury during the tournament and he said he had been carrying an upper leg problem since the second round.

Unusually for the Swiss, he took a medical timeout in the final as well as during his five-set semi with Stan Wawrinka. He also went five sets with Kei Nishikori in round four.

He said Sunday's 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win ranked alongside his 2009 French Open victory, which completed a career Grand Slam and ended a run of three defeats in the final.

"I think this one will take more time to sink in. When I go back to Switzerland, I'll think, 'Wow'. The magnitude of this match is going to feel different," he said.

"I can't compare this one to any other one except for maybe the French Open in '09. I waited for the French Open, I tried, I fought. I tried again and failed. Eventually I made it. This feels similar." Fittingly it was Nadal who pushed Federer to one of the biggest achievements of his career, after his Grand Slam chances had been largely written off.

It was a redemptive win as Federer has struggled against Nadal, losing four straight major finals to the fearsome left-hander since his Wimbledon victory in 2007.

"Rafa definitely has been very particular in my career. I think he made me a better player," Federer said.

"Him and a couple more players have done the most to do that to me because the way his game stacks up with me, it's a tricky one. I've said that openly.

"It remains for me the ultimate challenge to play against him. So it's definitely very special.

"I said that also before the finals: if I were to win against Rafa, it would be super-special and very sweet because I haven't beaten him in a Grand Slam final for a long, long time now."

 

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