In a match that was fitting of two of the greatest players of all time, Federer won 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to lift his fifth Australian Open trophy and win his first Slam since Wimbledon 2012.
Both players came into the tournament after spending time away from the game to recover from injury, but the standard of tennis was sensational from the onset.
The service games were solid as a rock in the opening exchanges, and Federer showed signs of clicking up the gears as the set went on.
Nadal was attacking his opponent's backhand at every available turn, but the Swiss superstar came up with the answers.
Sportsbet remarked how the Federer backhand is still one of life's great wonders:
Beautiful things in life: -Summer sunsets -A cold beer on a hot day -Federer's backhand #AusOpen2017-1-29 10:35:25
With the set locked at 3-3, Federer executed his trademark shot to devastating effect to land the first break of the final and set up a 6-4 opening-set victory:
US Open Tennis @usopen
The grind begins...First AO final set goes to @rogerfederer 6-4. #Federer #USOpen https://t.co/tzF3mSC9Zq2017-1-29 09:18:26
Nadal was expected to show signs of fatigue in Sunday's final after his gripping semi-final against Grigor Dimitrov, but he didn't look close to faltering in the second set. Instead, he sprung out of the traps.
The Spaniard raced into a 4-0 lead courtesy of two breaks, and even though he lost his own serve a game later, the damage was done.
His whipped forehand was finally causing Federer plenty of problems, and he breezed to a 6-3 win in the second set.
BBC Sport remarked that Nadal was showing the kind of form that makes him one of the best players to ever live:
BBC Sport @BBCSport
That's why he's a 14-time Grand Slam champion 👊 Nadal takes the second set 6-3 to level the match. Live 👉 https://t.co/9mrJiJ9WDI #AusOpen https://t.co/HOc2ysnt3i2017-1-29 09:54:28
Locked at one set each, the chance was there for one of these great players to seize the final and hit the front. Step forward, Mr. Federer.
The 35-year-old was playing almost exhibition tennis in the third set and never gave Nadal a look in. Running his opponent around the court and executing unplayable baseline strokes, it wasn't long before Federer restored his lead.
The 6-1 set victory was justice to the tennis he was playing, and the omens were good when he surged into a 2-1 lead in the match, as writer Shakti Shetty revealed:
Shakti Shetty @Shakti_Shetty
Federer has never been up 2-1 (sets) on Nadal and lost. Nadal has never lost an Australian Open match to Federer. Maybe things are changing.2017-1-29 10:51:12
You'd think Federer would be able to do enough to cross the line after that, and as IBTimes' Jason Le Miere said, his backhand was looking more than good enough to do exactly that:
Jason Le Miere @JasonLeMiere
Rarely seen Federer hit his backhand so cleanly or so aggressively. One set away from No. 18. #AusOpen2017-1-29 10:36:45
But Nadal didn't get that memo and set about levelling up the match and taking it to a fifth.
An emphatic break to make it 3-1 put Nadal fully in command of the fourth set, but it was in the fifth game that he produced a true piece of magic.
On the ropes and being bullied around the court, Nadal hit a sensational cross-court slice backhand to claim the game and leave even Federer in awe.
As soon as the ball passed him, Federer applauded Nadal's brilliance:
#Federer applauding #Nadal for another hot shot. #AusOpen #FedererNadal https://t.co/kwpSHSsk6j2017-1-29 11:03:02
That was enough to keep the momentum with the Spaniard, as he closed out the set 6-3 to take the amazing encounter to a deciding set.
None of the millions of spectators watching worldwide wanted to see either of the great champions lose the match, and at 2-2, there was no telling which of them it would be.
Betting company Coral noted just how topsy-turvy the pattern of the game had been:
It's going to a decider! Absolutely no idea what's going to happen in this final set, each set has been so different. #AusOpen2017-1-29 11:15:50
Crucially, the pendulum swung Nadal's way in the final set straight from the first game. Federer looked a little more cautious than he had been in previous games, and Nadal took full advantage to take an immediate break.
Federer had three chances in the next game to break straight back immediately, but the warrior spirit of Nadal came to the surface.
There was nothing Federer could do about the outrageous forehands coming from Nadal, who surged into a 2-0 lead and eyed up the trophy with purpose.
Federer knew he had to break—and fast—if he was to stand any chance of landing Slam No. 18, and the chances were there for him on the Nadal serve. At the sixth time of asking, the Swiss star finally broke to put the match back on serve:
Telegraph Sport @TelegraphSport
Federer breaks! The Rod Laver Arena erupts as the Suiss levels the fifth set at 3-3 #AusOpen https://t.co/rhbxENEjl8 https://t.co/mELphfvRCs2017-1-29 11:57:23
He backed that up with a wonderfully timed service game to love and suddenly found himself in the driver's seat with Nadal shaking.
The next game was the epitome of world-class tennis. Federer surged to a 40-0 lead, with Nadal looking wobbly. But the Spanish star came roaring back to bring about a deuce.
Then came a stunning rally between two players giving their all. Twenty-six shots later, Federer hit a vintage forehand winner to lift Melbourne to its feet.
Journalist Tancredi Palmeri labelled it "heaven":
Tancredi Palmeri @tancredipalmeri
WHAT THE HEAVEN OF A RALLY2017-1-29 12:07:23
The Swiss star kicked on from there to break and was then serving for the match with brand-new balls. Nadal had a break point after producing some scintillating shots, but Federer just tiptoed over the line 6-3.
There aren't enough words to describe just how fantastic a match the 2017 Australian Open final was. It featured two of the best players of all time rolling back the years to serve up a staggering affair—and it's one that could have gone on for days without spectators getting bored.
Federer is once again on the Grand Slam train, and he's more than worthy of being there.
The official Australian Open Twitter account provided Federer and Nadal's comments following the match:
#Federer: "Tennis is a tough sport, there's no draws but if there was I'd be happy to share it with Rafa tonight." #AusOpen https://t.co/PbmQObhoq42017-1-29 12:35:40
#Federer: "Keep playing Rafa please. Tennis needs you. Keep doing everything you do." #AusOpen https://t.co/lwH7EPiw1t2017-1-29 12:37:28
Rafa #Nadal: "Roger deserved it a little bit more than me" #ausopen https://t.co/by9qJSl9qy2017-1-29 12:30:38
#Nadal: "It was a great match, perhaps maybe Roger deserved it a bit more than me. I'm just gonna keep trying." #AusOpen2017-1-29 12:30:48