MEBOURNE, January 28, 2020 (by Alessandro Boroch)
Roger Federer has been on tour for quite a while, but now at the age of 38, when his career is slowly coming to an end, he produced one of the greatest comebacks in his longstanding career. The ATP Tour website afterwards dubbed Federer’s comeback in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open against Tennys Sandgren as “a Melbourne miracle”, which describes it quite aptly.
After three hours and 31 minutes, the 20-time major champion from Switzerland emerged victorious, saving seven match points to eventually prevail 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6(8), 6-3 over his 28-year-old US American opponent.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 28, 2020
”You have got to get lucky sometimes,” Federer said afterward. “I was just hoping that maybe he wasn’t going to smash a winner, if he misses one or two [match points], who knows what’s going to happen? I think I got incredibly lucky today.”
Federer kicked off the encounter with a dominant performance in the first set, allowing Sandgren just one break opportunity and earning 71 per cent (22/31) service points overall. But after a solid opening set, things only started going downward for the “Maestro”. This was not only due to him doubling his unforced errors count (15 in total compared to 7 in the first set), but also because of an ever-increasing Sandgren, who left just very little scope on his own serve.
The unseeded American finally won the second set and went on scoring the first break in the third set too, followed by a huge hold after saving three re-break points from 0-40 down.
Federer, who was struggling with his groin muscle, left the court for a nearly 10-minute medical timeout at 3-0. Sandgren, nevertheless, was not influenced by the long break and kept his composure to eventually convert his sixth set point and grab a 2-1 lead in sets.
Both held their service games comfortably in the following fourth set, until Sandgren played some deep returns to earn a match point with Federer serving at 4-5. However, the 28-year-old Tennessee native failed to convert his first match point after sending a backhand into the net.
In the further course of this crucial service game, Sandgren ensured two more match points, but again, visibly nervous, the American proposed two forehand errors to bring Federer back into play. The set was eventually decided in a tie-break and Sandgren again took the lead, cinching the first mini-break. After winning the next two points, the American set up another three match points at 6-3. But Federer would not be considered as arguably “the greatest of all time”, if he did not know how to deal with such pressuring circumstances.
The six-time Australian Open champion erased all match points and prevailed in a volley exchange to level the score. It was just the third point that Federer won on Sandgren’s first serve in the fourth set – and it happened in a vital moment.
After saving a final seventh match point in a long backhand-to-backhand exchange, Federer eventually went on converting his second set point with a furious forehand winner to tie the score, prevailing 10-8 in the tie-break. The crowd, which was largely on Federer’s side, realized that they could be part of a historical match and paid their respects to Federer with loud cheering.
In the final set, Sandgren lost his mental steadiness, as he was still thinking about his wasted chances to achieve his biggest win of his career. Federer finally converted his third break point in the fifth set, grabbing a 4-2 lead, and afterwards went on dominating on serve to advance into his 46th grand slam semifinal.
”As the match went on, I started to feel better and just tried to play. I believe in miracles. There could be rain… Just let him finish me off in style, and he didn’t do that. I’m still standing here and obviously just very happy,” said Federer.
Djokovic beats Raonic
Federer awaits rival Novak Djokovic next, who later the day overcame No. 32 seed Milos Raonic in straight sets on Rod Laver Arena, winning 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(1). Despite a one-sided result, the match included some tight exchanges and therefore took place for almost three hours.
Asked about his upcoming opponent Djokovic, who leads their Head2Head rivalry by 26-23 and won their last three encounters in Melbourne, Federer said: “Novak, he’s a champion, especially here in Australia. We’ve had some epic matches in the past […] I need to feel better than I do today.”
In his match with Raonic, Djokovic did not drop his service game once, erasing two breakpoints during the entire match. He won 86 per cent (60/70) first serve points and managed to earn 39 per cent (50/128) return points against the strong-serving Canadian.
Despite a brilliant returning performance, the 32-year-old Serb converted just two of his 16 breakpoints, which was particularly due to clutch serving by his Canadian opponent, who had great success with fast out-wide serves.
In the third set, Djokovic curiously had to take a medical timeout, as he needed to change his contact lenses since he was struggling to see the ball due to excessive lighting and dry eyes.
In the end, however, Djokovic got his “eye problem” under control and was able to extend his Head2Head record to 10-0 against Raonic. He has now reached his 37th semifinal on major level.
“I felt great on the court and I was very focused,” said Djokovic. “The first couple of sets went exactly how I wanted them to go, with one break in each set. I felt comfortable in serving. I felt my return was key, how many balls I could get back into place, and the second key was hitting my spots. I was fortunate to get out of trouble in the third set and I played the perfect tie-break.”
When asked about his semifinal match with Federer during the on-court interview, Djokovic had just good words left for the 38-year-old Swiss: “I have tremendous respect for Roger and everything he has achieved in the sport. The match ups against Roger and Rafa are the reason I am the player that I am today. I am grateful I’ve had so many matches against those guys. It’s amazing what Roger did on the court today and he’s done it a number of times in his career. Let the better player win!”
“He showed why he is one of the best players of all time.”@DjokerNole with admiration for what his semifinal opponent Roger Federer was able to do in his quarterfinal match with Tennys Sandgren.#AO2020 | #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/8NEtYBnvIw
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 28, 2020