Roger Federer beats longtime rival Rafael Nadal, wins 18th Grand Slam

8:29 AM ET

MELBOURNE, Australia — In what might have been the most important tennis match in history, Roger Federer made an emphatic case for the title of greatest male player ever.

Federer won a thrilling and bruising Australian Open final Sunday night, defeating Rafael Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

On Federer’s second match point, he finished it with a forehand winner on the line that was challenged by Nadal and — after an awkward but thrilling pause — upheld by replay.

After missing six months of tennis from July to January, the 35-year-old Federer, who hadn’t won a Grand Slam singles title since Wimbledon in 2012, improbably ran his major total to 18, four ahead of Nadal.

Suddenly, the odds of Nadal catching Federer have diminished greatly.

The oldest major finalist in 43 years, Federer lost control of his legendary forehand in the final two sets but rallied famously late in the fifth. He was flying around the court in the final games.

Federer accepted the silver trophy, appropriately, from the great

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