Playing some of the best tennis of his career at age 35, Federer also beat his longtime nemesis in the Australian Open final in January, and two weeks ago en route to the Indian Wells title.
Federer was coming off a thrilling three-hour semifinal win over Nick Kyrgios but nonetheless looked fresh against Nadal and erased all four break points he faced. Federer failed to take advantage of five early break-point chances himself but broke in the next to last game of both sets.
Serving for the championship at 5-4, Federer hit his only double-fault on the first point but quickly regrouped. The next point was the longest of the match, and Federer ended the 19-shot rally with a forehand winner in the corner.
When Nadal sailed a return long on the final point, Federer took the ball on a bounce behind the baseline and happily whacked it into the stands, then waved with both hands in jubilation. The sellout crowd was evenly divided in its support but roared for the popular champion.
Federer saved two match points in his quarterfinal win against Tomas Berdych, and earned a three-tiebreaker win in the semifinals against Kyrgios. His route to the title was made easier by the absences of six-time champion Novak Djokovic and two-time time champion Andy Murray, both sidelined by elbow injuries.
Even so, Federer’s resurgence is remarkable. He has the best record on men’s tour this year at 19-1, including 7-0 against players ranked in the top 10, and he’s the first three-time champion this year on the men’s tour. His best start since 2006 comes after he missed the final six months of last year with a left knee injury.
Federer’s vast repertoire was on display throughout the tournament. Against Nadal he won all six points where he played serve and volley, and won six other points at the net. He served well and held at love three times in a row. He played terrific defense, robbing Nadal’s groundstrokes of their power, and finished with 30 winners to only 17 unforced errors.
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