MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Once he’d become the first man to win 20 Grand Slam singles titles, the questions to Roger Federer shifted to another major milestone.
The record for most major singles titles is 24, set by Margaret Court across the amateur and professional eras. Serena Williams set the Open era record last year when she beat her sister Venus in the Australian Open final for her 23rd major title.
That win 12 months ago — Serena Williams’ last before taking time out for her pregnancy and the birth last September of her daughter — coincided with Federer’s drought-breaking triumph at Melbourne Park.
Federer’s win over Rafael Nadal in the 2017 final ended a Grand Slam drought dating back to Wimbledon in 2012. He followed that up by winning the Wimbledon title and finished last year at No. 2.
Now that he has successfully defended a Grand Slam title for the first time in almost a decade — he won the U.S. Open five consecutive years from 2004 to 2008 (equaling his longest streak of five Wimbledon titles from 2003-7) — people are speculating about his chances of matching Court’s record.
“I didn’t think 20 was ever possible, to be honest. But, no, I think it’s too far,” Federer said. “Those numbers are surreal. They’re amazing. I’m very happy if it stays at 20. What a moment.”
Federer didn’t hide his emotion after beating sixth-seeded Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 on Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night, shedding tears as he accepted the trophy. Even the great Laver, sitting in the crowd, was compelled to get a photo of it for posterity.
At the age of 36 years, 173 days, Federer became the second-oldest man to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open era after Ken Rosewall, who won the 1972 Australian Open at 37.
The father-of-four said careful planning and staying injury-free could keep him in contention at the big tournaments.
“I’ve won three Slams now in 12 months. I can’t believe it myself,” Federer said. “I’ve just got to keep a good schedule, stay hungry, then maybe good things can happen.”
Here’s what else we learned at the Australian Open:
• Marin’s moment: Cilic moved up to No. 3 in the rankings with his run to the final, which included a victory over Nadal in the quarterfinals. It was his second final in the last three majors and he’s growing in confidence that he can add another Grand Slam title to his 2014 U.S. Open breakthrough.
• Wozniacki’s win: Caroline Wozniacki is finally a Grand Slam champion, holding off top-seeded Simona Halep in three tough sets. She was seeded No. 2 and playing her 43rd major, and the victory lifted her to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time in six years. Wozniacki said she was most pleased she won’t ever have to answer any more questions about what it’s like to have held the top ranking without winning a major.
• Halep’s heart: The 26 year-old Romanian was playing her first major as the top seed, had to save match points in the third round and in the semifinals and spent more time on the courts at Melbourne Park than any other woman in the tournament. In the end, she had to settle for a third Grand Slam final loss. But it was her first away from Roland Garros, and should increase her resolve. She’d made first-round exits in the two previous years at the Australian Open.
• Tough at the top: Wozniacki was the fourth different major winner on the women’s side since Serena Williams last played, and three of them (Wozniacki, Jelena Ostapenko at the French and Sloane Stephens at the U.S. Open) were first-time Grand Slam champions. Five women held the top ranking in 2017, and already there’s been a change at the top this year. N.B. Serena Williams has already announced her comeback.
• Moving up the ranks: Among the notable movers were Angelique Kerber, the former No. 1 and a two-time major winner, returning to the top 10 after her run to the semifinals. Elise Mertens moved from No. 37 to No. 20 after making the semifinals on debut at the Australian Open.
• Missing men: Between them, Federer and Rafael Nadal have won the last five majors, with injuries sidelining some other stars of the game. Six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic returned here from six months out with a right elbow injury but was stunned by Hyeon Chung. Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, went out early after struggling with his injured left knee. Five-time finalist Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori didn’t contest the season-opening major. Nadal, who retired in the fifth set of his quarterfinal against Cilic because of hip muscle problem, said tour organizers need to pay attention to the injury toll and investigate what is causing it.
• Chung’s charge: The 21-year-old Chung became the first Korean to reach the semifinals at a major, and certainly got plenty of attention. Winner of the ATP Next Gen Finals last November, he took out fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev and Djokovic but his “blisters on blisters on blisters” forced him to retire in the second set of his semifinal against Federer. He’ll learn from the experience.
• And now for the weather: If tennis fans and pundits didn’t know what the WBGT reading is, they should now. That’s the combined measure of heat, humidity and breeze that dictates whether the Australian Open heat policy is enacted or not. Tournament referee Wayne McEwen has the option of closing the roof and suspending play on outside courts when the temperature reaches 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and the wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT) reaches 32.5C (90.5F). He used his discretion to shut the roof on the last day, making the men’s final indoors. Tennis Australia said the WBGT reading didn’t reach the threshold on any previous day of the tournament.