Federer Lives Dangerously, But Finally Figures Out Millman To Earn Historic Victory

MELBOURNE, January 24, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Roger Federer came into his third-round match at the Australian Open against Aussie John Millman looking for a different outcome when they played their featured match on Rod Laver Arena Friday night. The last time, Millman pulled off a shocking quarterfinal upset of the Swiss star at the 2018 US Open. He almost did it again, coming within two points of winning in a fifth-set match tie-break.

This time, however, it was the No. 3 seed Federer who won against the No. 47 Millman, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (10-8), that lasted four hours and three minutes, ending at 12:48 a.m. Saturday morning. The victory presented the 38-year-old Swiss star with his 100th win at the Australian Open, where he’s compiled a remarkable 100-14 record. Previously, Federer had achieved the century mark in wins at Wimbledon.

While the crowd that filled the arena was appreciative of Federer, as they always seem to be, they also were pulling for Millman to pull off another upset, in support of their 30-year-old home country favorite.

The six-time Australian Open champion drew upon his vast experience – and despite losing his last three five-set matches (to Grigor Dimitrov, Novak Djokovic and Kevin Anderson), he found a way to win and advanced to the fourth round of the year’s first Grand Slam. Federer recovered twice during the fifth-set tie-break, coming back from down 0-3 and, again, at 4-8 and won the last six points of the match for his historic triumph. Although Millman played free nerve-free tennis throughout most of the match and fought to the end, Federer found a way to to snatch victory from a sure defeat.

“Oh God, it was tough. Thank Good it was a match tie-break, otherwise I would have lost this one,” said Federer, during his post-match interview on court with Hall of Famer Jim Courier. “Where to start? I think John played a great match. He is a great fighter, a good guy and it came down to the wire at the end.

“A bit of luck maybe goes one way. I had to stay so focused, take the right decision. He was doing all that stuff at the beginning of the match tie-break, coming up with the goods and I thought, ‘Okay, I guess I tried.’ I didn’t play too bad after all and I was getting ready to explain myself in the press conference. What a match and John deserves over half of this one.”

Before the match, Millman said: “Regardless of the score, at the end of the day, I’ll go out there and leave it all out there. If lightning strikes twice, I wouldn’t say no to it. You don’t play sport to not want these moments. Home slam against someone like Roger, it’s pretty cool.”  Afterward, he said: “I could have gone away easily in that fourth set. Roger was playing pretty ell. He the momentum. I thought I turned it around pretty well. I left everything out there.”

Coming in, Federer had dropped just 13 games in his first two rounds and looked like the Federer who had won the Australian Open six times. Against Millman, whom he improved his career head-to-head record to 3-1, Federer struck 16 aces and hit 62 winners. Despite committing 82 unforced errors, he won 85 of 111 first-serve points. He went three for 10 on break-point opportunities. Federer outpointed Millman 181-178.

Looking back, the former World No. 1 was asked after his second-round victory over No. 41 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, what happened to him against Millman on the hot New York night inside Arthur Ashe Stadium two years ago, when Millman won 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3). “I think it was a combination of many things that went wrong for me on that day, plus the opponent was ready and tough as nails,” he said. “I almost lost to him in Brisbane, as well, the first time I played against him. He’s from this country, so naturally it’s also going to be a different intensity. I think this is going to be a good taste for me.”

A good taste, indeed, After a long day’s night – after holding on – the fifth set against Millman is one that will stay with Federer for a long time. The quality of his character remained bright to the very end.

Next, Federer will face No. 67 Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, who hit 28 winners in his 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 80 Tommy Paul of the United States to move into Sunday’s fourth round. Paul, who withstood a four-plus-hour, 5-set marathon two days earlier against Grigor Dimitrov, committed 42 unforced errors against Fucsovics, who reached the AO round of 16 for the second time.

Raonic last Canadian standing

Sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, the reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion, had been idle since the first day of the fortnight as a result of getting a second-round walkover against Philipp Kohlschreiber. Meanwhile, No. 32 seed Milos Raonic arrived after powering his way through his first two matches. He’s reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in four of his last five trips to Melbourne. Make that five of his last six.

The 29-year-old Raonic fired 19 aces and hit 55 winners – and won 88 percent of his first-serve points while never facing a break point – en route to 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (2) win over 2019 AO semifinalist Tsitsipas in Margaret Court Arena.

“Today was an incredible match for me,” Raonic said after his win. “I was very happy with how things went. I enjoy the energy of playing on this court and it’s great to be health and playing well. I can take a lot of pleasure in this win.”

Next, Raonic will oppose No. 39 Marin Cilic from Croatia. Cilic came into his seventh meeting against ninth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut with a 4-2 win-loss advantage. Both of Bautista Agut’s victories came Down Under and last year he captured an epic five-setter against the Croatian to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. This time, Cilic gained revenge and won 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-0, 5-7, 6-3. He hit 76 winners during the four hour and 10 minute marathon and survived his second straight five-set match.

“It was just a surreal level,” said Cilic, who improved to 32-11 lifetime at the Australian Open. “Every ball I was hitting was going in. It was coming off my racket incredibly well. I knew Roberto would always fight and pushed me all the way in the fourth set.”

Djokovic moves into second week

Defending champion and No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic continued his quest for his eighth Australian Open singles title and played his second straight match against a Japanese opponent. This time it was Yoshihito Nishioka and the result was the same: Djokovic won easily 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 In one hour and 25 minutes on Rod Laver Arena during the day session, striking 17 aces and losing just eight points on his serve. He’s into the second week at Melbourne for the 12th time.

Djokovic, now 71-8 lifetime in Melbourne, said: “Definitely one of the best serving matches I’ve had lately (and) inspired by my coach, Goran Ivanisevic. There are a lot of technical details you can talk about, but sometimes less is more. It’s all about the rhythm and balance. … So far, it’s been working really well.”

Next, Djokovic  takes on Diego Schwartzman. The No. 14 seed from Argentina won in straight sets over No. 24 Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (7) in two hours and 13 minutes on Margaret Court Arena. While both were wearing identical Fila kits, it was easy to tell the two apart due to the difference in their respective height – Schwartzman is just 5-feet-7 while Lajovic is 6-feet tall. Schwartzman hit 25 winners and Lajovic was done in by his 45 unforced errors. It was his first tie-break loss of the year in his seventh tie-break set.

“I was so lucky at the end,” said Schwartzman during his on-court interview. “Many times, I was not playing my best in the tie-break, but I’m happy to finish and go to the locker with the second week (result) here. I then I was very solid, serving well, and trying to take every opportunity he gave me.”

Schwartzman is yet to lose a set through his first three matches. He will be challenged by Djokovic. “Novak is a big player, a legend of our sport … I’m just thinking to recover well and be ready for Sunday,” said Schwartzman.

Fognini, Sandgren reach fourth round

No. 12 seed Fabio Fognini has rolled the dice all week in Melbourne and come up big. Coming into Friday, he garnered back-to-back fifth-set tie-break victories just to reach the third round. As for No. 22 seed Guido Pella, who came in with a 1-5 record before this week, it’s been a bit of a breakthrough to get as far as the final 32. However, Pella’s luck ran out. Fognini won 7-6 (0), 6-2, 6-3 to reach the fourth round. Next, he will face 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren of the United States, who hit 35 winners and beat No. 45 Sam Querrey, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in matchup of Americans. Sandgren is attempting to duplicate his 2018 run to the AO quarterfinals.

Nadal on the cusp of history

Top seed Rafael Nadal, 33, has captured 19 Grand Slam championship titles, which places him just one behind Roger Federer’s 20 and three ahead of Novak Djokovic. At this year’s Australian Open, he’s aiming to become just the first male player in the Open Era – and just the third man in tennis history – to win each of the four major titles twice. Only Australians Rod Laver and Roy Emerson have won each Grand Slam two or more times.

After Nadal advanced to the third round with a 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-1 win over Federico Delbonis on Thursday night, the Spanish World No. 1 said during his on-court interview with Sam Groth: “To be a part of this moment of history of tennis and to share all these great years with Novak and with Roger, it’s been a special journey for me. I’m happy to be a part of this. We enjoy more matches between each other more than before in the history of the sport than ever before. That’s something special for me and it’s been a pleasure to be a part of it.”

What they’re tweeting

Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist: “It will be Rafael Nadal vs countryman Pablo Carreño Busta in the third round of the Australian Open. Winner of that gets the winner of Nick Kyrgios vs Karen Khachanov in round four. You can imagine what potential matchup has the most box-office potential.”

What they’re saying

Mercurial Aussie Nick Kyrgios looking back on his 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory over Gilles Simon of France on Thursday night: “I knew that if it went five sets, it would have been very tough physically, especially going up against a guy like that, with the conditions being very slow. But I thought I lifted in the fourth. I just put my head down. I lost my way a little bit in the third set. I put my head down, I told myself, ‘Just cut the bulls—t and just get to work.’ I got the break at five-all. It was a good feeling to get through that.”

By the numbers 

For the first time since the 2012 US Open, five American men reached the third round of a Grand Slam.

Going into Friday, six players in the men’s draw had not dropped a set in their first two matches: Rafael Nadal, Alexander Zverev, Roger Federer, Milos Raonic, Diego Schwartzman and Dusan Lajovic. Note: Stefanos Tsitsipas had not dropped a set in his first match but won his second by a walkover.

After the second round, fourteen of the top 16 seeds are left in the men’s singles draw, most since 2016.