Roger Federer is an Australian Open centurion after securing his 100th singles victory at Melbourne Park and a ticket into the fourth round after a Friday night thriller.
The six-time champion escaped after a valiant fight from home charge John Millman, winning the final six points of the match in a 4-6 7-6(2) 6-4 4-6 7-6[10-8] victory over four hours at Rod Laver Arena.
The Swiss extends his 21st successive Australian Open campaign to take on the resurgent Marton Fucsovics in the last 16.
“Thank God it was a super tiebreaker, otherwise I would have lost this one,” joked the relieved Federer, who lost to Millman back in the 2018 US Open fourth round.
“Where to start … John played a great match, he’s a great fighter, a great guy and it came down to the wire. Maybe a bit of luck. I had to stay so focused to make the right decisions. What a match, John deserves over half of this one.”
Both players in the build-up highlighted how much they’ve practiced over the years and it was evident in the early exchanges, with a lot of correct guesswork in the rallies.
After a few holds, a vocal fan yelled “hustle Johnny, let’s go mate.” The Queenslander obliged, providing a wall of resistance to an off-kilter Federer.
Millman punished a slow start from the No.3 seed, who was struggling to hit the heights of his sublime performances in the opening two rounds.
World No.47 Millman deserved the opener and was thriving as the frontrunner, serving first in the second set, and his hustle continued by ramping up the pressure on return.
However, the six-time champion was slowly finding his range. Into the tiebreak, Federer took charge with authoritative play to connect with a collection of crisp volleys and smart overheads to level the clash.
“I had to figure out how to get him into trouble on his serve,” reflected Federer.
“He was doing such a good job of not making mistakes, I was struggling, he was dominating both sides. I had to figure out how to create chances.
“It was big to get that second set, but I never felt comfortable, always on the back foot until that last shot.”
It was the third seed’s turn as the frontrunner in the third set, and the 20-time Grand Slam champion was scrutinising Millman’s renowned resistance by chalking up a break chance at 4-3. The Queenslander withstood a barrage from Federer in a 27-shot rally to fend off the danger.
Federer kept coming, opening up the court with sustained success. At 5-4, he sensed his chance and ripped a forehand winner to pose the question. Moments later, an elegant angled volley was the telling touch as Federer broke to edge a set away.
Unsurprisingly Millman was defiant, whipping a forehand cross court pass to help post 2-2 in fourth set. A roar towards the 30-year-old’s camp, with a clenched fest, echoed his sentiment.
Rocket returns and a grinding 18-shot rally were the catalyst to break for 4-3, and Millman then forced a decider.
The six-time champion had lost all three five-set encounters he’d played since the Australian Open 2018 title match.
The finale boiled down to a final set 10-point tiebreak, the first ever at Rod Laver Arena.
Millman made the first move. A sumptuous backhand sliced volley and consecutive hooked forehand passing shots catapulted the amiable Australian 8-4 in front, and Federer was on the ropes.
The Swiss has become accustomed to making history and had the final say, reeling Millman into the net, his all-court craft forcing the errors for 8-8 with four hours of pulsating action completed.
A lob looped long to gift Federer match point, and the most decorated men’s player of all time launched a ferocious forehand to raise his arms aloft.
“He was doing all the right stuff at the beginning of the (fifth set) breaker, coming up with the goods. I thought ‘Ok, I tried, I guess I didn’t play too bad.’ I was getting ready to explain myself in the press conference,” said Federer with a smirk.
“The demons are always there. It was so tough, it was Johnny who really made it tough tonight.”