Roger Federer was as surprised to win his 18th grand slam title at the Australian Open as when he clinched his first at Wimbledon in 2003.
And now the Swiss is targeting the All England Club for major triumph number 19 after he ousted old rival Rafael Nadal in five thrilling sets in Melbourne.
Federer beat Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to win his fifth Australian Open title and complete an incredible comeback following six months out with injury.
Victory also means Federer climbs to 10th in the world rankings after he started the tournament 17th and with faint hopes of making the quarter-finals. “This came as a huge, huge surprise. I guess maybe like 2003 Wimbledon, it’s totally different, but it was a big, big surprise,” Federer said.
“I thought I could probably be dangerous for a top guy, maybe beat one, and then that would probably be it, just because the body would start aching – which it did – or my level would drop – which it didn’t.”
Even for Federer, the French Open is likely to prove out of reach given he has never enjoyed playing on clay and the surface will be particularly brutal on his body.
Nadal, the nine-time champion at Roland Garros, world No 1 Andy Murray, reigning champion Novak Djokovic and 2015 winner Stan Wawrinka will all sit higher in the pecking order.
It means the 35-year-old’s best chance of sealing his next grand slam success is on the grass of Centre Court this summer.
“Yeah, Wimbledon over Roland Garros yes,” Federer said. “On the grass I’ve got a lot of tournaments there, I play Stuttgart and Halle. So I guess Wimbledon, I know I have a better shot there.
“But at the French Open, if you’re not in the draw you can’t win it so I hope to be in the draw this year, not like last year. The US Open actually I also think I have a good chance to do well there, but let’s enjoy this one first.”
Federer will first take some time off to recover physically from his draining run at Melbourne Park, before continuing the hard-court season in Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami.
The knee injury that prompted last year’s sabbatical appears not to have resurfaced but Federer did have to put up with pain in his thigh and groin against Wawrinka and Nadal.
“I feel okay, I am very tired right now,” Federer said. “My legs hurt like mad and my back’s stiff now too because I didn’t take any treatment, plus I was dancing.
“I’m still on a high, I’m going to crash eventually but that’s okay and like I said in a week’s time I think the pain in my legs will go away, which is going to be nice.”
This was Federer’s first major title since his second set of twins, Leo and Lenny, were born and the veteran said he enjoyed some time with his family after returning from a long night of partying.
“As I walked in, they woke up. It was a bit of a weird moment but still so great because they were all in such a good mood as they woke up and I came in walking in with the trophy,” Federer said.
“We started the party late, or super early in the morning and we made it home by sunrise, which was good.
“It was nice to see the sun rise over Melbourne, get into the room, so it was a long night but a lot of fun.
“Everyone was in such a good mood, it was a special day, a special couple of weeks and finished off in a great way, by being silly and having a lot of fun.”