Federer says 18th slam 'smallest' part of Melbourne triumph
By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Roger Federer said winning an 18th grand slam and extending his lead at the top of the list of most prolific major winners was a long way from being the most satisfying thing about winning his fifth Australian Open title on Sunday.
The Swiss master, who did not play for six months following Wimbledon last year after undergoing knee surgery, made a triumphant return in Australia and, seeded a lowly 17th, claimed his first grand slam title for 4 1/2 years after a five-set epic against Rafa Nadal.
The 18th slam edged him further ahead of Nadal and Pete Sampras, who share second place on the list of major winners with 14, and gave more grist to those who argue that Federer is the greatest player of all time.
"That's the smallest part, to be honest," the 35-year-old told a packed news conference more than two hours after his victory.
"For me it's all about the comeback, about an epic match with Rafa again. Doing it here in Australia ... that I can still do it at my age after not having won a slam for almost five years.
"That's what I see. The last problem is the slam count. Honestly, it doesn't matter."
The win was his first against Nadal in Melbourne and snapped a six-game losing streak against the Spaniard at grand slams, with his last major win over his rival coming in the 2007 Wimbledon final.
"We go furthest back, you know," he said of his rivalry with Nadal.
"Rafa definitely has been very particular in my career. I think he made me a better player. The way his game stacks up with me, it's a tricky one. It remains for me the ultimate challenge to play against him. So it's definitely very special.
"I haven't beaten him in a grand slam final for a long, long time now. Now I was able to do it again."
All the emotions of the return after six months out injured and the long grand slam drought would make this one of his more special victories, he said.
"I think this one will take more time to sink in. When I go back to Switzerland, I'll think, 'Wow!'," he said.
"The magnitude of this match is going to feel different. I can't compare this one to any other one except for maybe the French Open in 2009.
"I waited for the French Open, I tried, I fought. I tried again and failed. Eventually I made it. This feels similar."
The win made Federer the first player ever to win five titles at three different grand slams and, at 35, the oldest grand slam winner since Ken Rosewall won the 1972 Australian Open at 37.
Federer said he hoped to be back next year at the Australian Open, where he has not missed a tournament since making his debut as a qualifier in 1999, but at his age there were no guarantees.
"I have only so much tennis left in me," he said. "If I do get injured, maybe I miss next year. Who knows what happens?"
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Toby Davis)