Federer flies past familiar foe
Federer flies past familiar foe
So now we have the clash of the generations: the five-time Melbourne champion, 36-year-old Roger Federer against the Grand Slam semifinal debutant, 21-year-old Hyeon Chung, for a place in the Australian Open final. That should be fun.
To get there, Federer had to beat Tomas Berdych, the big Czech who had been scything through the draw and who really fancied his chances – and Fed won 7-6(1) 6-3 6-4. Fed usually does. Fed is very good at winning.
Berdych came into the match with his tail up. He had been playing progressively better and better as the tournament wore on. He also had memories of six previous wins over the Mighty Fed to reassure him. Some of them were big wins, too: the quarterfinals of Wimbledon 2010 and the US Open 2012. And the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. Yup, Big Berd knew how to do this.
Unfortunately for him, Federer also had a few good memories to call on, 19 of them to be precise. The defending champion has been making Berdych’s life miserable for the best part of 14 years and has beaten him on every surface, indoor and out. He had 19 wins over Berdych to his name, 19 Grand Slam titles on his mantelpiece and a 20th trophy in sight. The world No.2 was not without confidence going into his 52nd Grand Slam quarterfinal.
However, even living legends are human. Even Federer gets nervous from time to time, no matter how well he is playing. And Fed looked edgy as he stepped on court. Then again, he has been here so many times before that he can recognise the signs and react accordingly.
“It's weird how sometimes you can be way more nervous for a second round than, say, for a finals, believe it or not,” he explained at Wimbledon last year.
“It's like you wake up every day the same, but it's strange playing this way when you're so tense. Yet you have nothing to lose or in a way that's what I'm telling myself, just play freely. It's not just that simple once you get out there.”
In the absence of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, both beaten this fortnight by a combination of inspired opponents and injury, Federer was the last member of the establishment still standing. In some ways, that meant less pressure – he did not have to go through Rafa or Novak if he wanted to win the title. But then again, it added to the pressure – this was a perfect chance to claim that 20th major.
As Wednesday night began, Federer was looking out of kilter. His serve was not firing, his game was scratchy and he was grumpy. And within 15 minutes or so, he was 4-1 down.
This, then, was Berdych’s chance. Keep clumping the ball towards the lines and watch Fed make the mistakes. It sounds so simple, yet it is anything but. Watching a regular opponent have a bad day is one thing, but daring to think you have a chance against the old GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) is a dangerous move.
Sure enough, Federer edged his way back into the set. He broke back for 5-4, and then he ran away with the tiebreak. And then he ran away with the second set.
“I had to get a bit lucky, a bit angry, a bit frustrated, a bit antsy,” Federer said. “I’m really happy I got out of that first set. That ended up being the key to the match.”
It was after the second set that Berdych decided to take evasive action. He called for the trainer and left the court to have treatment. That was when John McEnroe impishly suggested that the Czech had actually gone to look for a psychiatrist – it was his brain and not his thigh that needed urgent treatment.
By this stage, Federer’s familiar air of confidence and serenity had returned. It was all looking so smooth and sleek as he broke in the opening game of the third set. But then, as he was doing what he does so well, a line judge failed to call a Berdych shot long. Federer challenged and then turned to glare at the errant official. The ball must have been a mile out for Fed to be this annoyed. But then Hawk-Eye revealed that the ball had been out by no more than a whisker, Fed raised a quizzical eyebrow and turned away. Nothing to see here, move along. Genius about to resume work …
The Genius in question then inexplicably dropped serve, but it did not matter. Fed broke straight back and a handful of games later, he was through to his 14th Australian Open semifinal and his 43rd Grand Slam semifinal in all, ousting Berdych from the tournament for the third year in succession, and beating the big Czech for the ninth straight time.
A maiden career meeting with Chung is next for Federer as he attempts to qualify for his seventh Australian Open decider.
“I'm very excited to play Chung, I thought he played an incredible match against Novak (Djokovic),” he said.
“To beat him here is one of the tough things to do in our sport, I believe. I know that Novak maybe wasn't at 110 per cent, but he was all right. To close it out, that was mighty impressive.
“I think it's an interesting match for me. I'll definitely have to look into how I need to play against him because he has some great qualities, especially defensively, like Novak has.
“Right now I couldn't tell you how I need to play him. One thing I know is I'm going to be playing aggressive. I don't know how I'm going to do that exactly yet.”