Thursday, January 26, 2017

Roger Federer survives battle of the Swiss in 5 sets to reach first Aussie Open final since 2010

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Roger Federer will attempt to win his 18th Grand Slam championship crown against his old foe Rafael Nadal or Grigor Dimitrov on Sunday after a battling performance in the Australian Open semi-finals.

The 35-year-old Swiss superstar, who recently returned to top-level tennis after a six-month injury lay-off, booked a spot in his 28th Grand Slam final with a 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory over his compatriot Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 titlist and fourth seed. Federer will now compete for his fifth crown in his sixth Australian Open final on Sunday night, when he will attempt to become the first No. 17 seed to win a major since Pete Sampras won the final professional match of his career at the 2002 US Open.

Federer, who is now 86-13 at the Australian Open, would take a 5-0 advantage over No. 15 seed Dimitrov into his 28th Grand Slam championship final (17-8 record). But he trails 14-time major winner and 2009 champion Nadal 11-23 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. Dimitrov and Nadal contest their semi-final on Friday night.

“I know I will have a chance to win on Sunday now,” said Federer. “That's a great position to be in. Regardless of who it's going to be against, I think it's going to be special either way. One is going to go for his first Slam or it's the epic battle with Rafa. All I care about is that I can win on Sunday. It doesn't matter who's across the net. But I understand the magnitude of the match against Nadal, no doubt about it.”

Federer will re-enter the Top 10 in the Emirates ATP Rankings at No. 10 should he lift the trophy on Sunday. He is looking to become the second oldest player in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam crown after Australian’s Ken Rosewall, who won 3 Grand Slam titles after turning 35. Rosewall won the 1970 US Open (aged 35 years, 315 days) and the Australian Open in 1971 (36 years, 73 days) and 1972 (37 years, 62 days). Federer has not reached a major final since September 2015 at the US Open (l. to Djokovic) and not won a major title since July 2012 at Wimbledon (d. Murray).

Wawrinka said, “I'm proud of myself, of the fight I gave tonight and all the tournament. I think there is a lot of positives from this tournament, from Brisbane, from the month [of January] already. I'm really sad and disappointed with a loss like this… I had a great battle against Roger. He's a great fighter. He's always been amazing in Grand Slams, in five-set matches.”

Federer applied early pressure, forcing Wawrinka to recover from 0/40 on serve at 1-2 - Infosys ATP Scores & Stats indicates Wawrinka did so on nine of 26 occasions in 2016. Although Federer came through his own test, from 15/40 in the next game, he did do a good job of keeping Wawrinka off-balance by varying the direction of his groundstrokes. Federer survived a break point at 5-5, 30/40 and was soon gifted two straight errors from Wawrinka to take the 50-minute opener.

In the second set, Wawrinka went into meltdown at 2-3 when two errors saw his serve get broken – as well as a racquet – to give Federer full control of their 22nd meeting. Although Wawrinka continued to battle, he left the court close to tears at the end of the second set. The 31 year old would now need to come back from an 0-2 sets deficit for the seventh time in his career.

With strapping just below his right knee, following an off-court medical time-out, Wawrinka took his first tentative steps. Initially slow to move off his right leg, he grew in confidence and broke Federer’s serve with a forehand winner for a 3-1 advantage. Federer’s intensity dropped and two more breaks soon followed for Wawrinka. In a run of six games, Wawrinka led 1-0 in the fourth set.

Although Federer broke back immediately for 1-1, fast forward to 4-4 and he was in big trouble at 0/40. Federer saved two break points with well-directed serves, but terrific movement from Wawrinka at 30/40 enabled him to flick a forehand crosscourt winner to break. The capacity crowd, including Rod Laver, were left stunned as the match went to a fifth and deciding set. Federer took the time to leave the court for treatment.

“I felt tightness [in my leg] throughout the match, and I felt like it slowed me down,” said Federer. “I just hoped that maybe having the physio work on it, that it would make me feel better. But it didn't. It's not something I'm necessarily really worried about in any way. So that's a good thing.”

Wawrinka narrowly missed a forehand down the line at 1-1, 30/40, with Federer in a perilous position at the net. Wawrinka then recovered from 0/30 in the next game, before missing another break point at 2-2. When Wawrinka struck a mid-court backhand long at 2-3, 15/30, the match turned in Federer’s favour. Federer was not to be denied and, having closed out the match to love, he will now play his 100th match at the Australian Open against Nadal or Dimitrov in Sunday's final.

“No, I didn't feel more pressure,” said Wawrinka, when asked about the sixth game of the fifth set. “The game was really quick. New balls. He made two good returns to be 15/30. Then he put me under pressure. I made a bad choice [a backhand, then] a double-fault, and you're down a break in the fifth.

“[My injury has] been for sure an issue since the beginning of the tournament. Then again, it's not an excuse at all. I always try to fight on the court, to find a solution. I made the semi-finals. I had the chance to win tonight [and] I had some opportunities in the fifth set… I gave everything.”

Federer, who is now 19-3 lifetime against Wawrinka (and a winner in all of their hard-court meetings), hit 47 winners, including 11 aces. He also converted four of his nine break point opportunities for victory in three hours and four minutes. Wawrinka, who saw his 12-match winning streak at Grand Slams come to an end, went 4/12 on break points, but went 56/86 on first serve points in comparison to 62/86 for Federer.

I went into this tournament just being so happy to watch this man play competitively on court again, and if someone had told me that he would reach the final after a 6 month lay off I probably would have laughed. 

I'm still in a bit of a shock that he's in a final to be honest. But surprised shock feels so great, we've had too much of the other kind of shock in recent Grand Slams.  

You'd think after all these years I would learn to never underestimate Roger Federer's ability to defy expectations, or father time himself at 35.  

I'm fairly certain that's why he has so many fans worldwide, because he's able to come back time and time again, just when everyone thinks he's ready to hang up his raquet. It's definitely one of the reasons I admire him, and can't get enough of watching him play.  

This match didn't lack for drama though did it, it had everything, frustration, breaking raquets and a medical time out by both players (which had me a bit worried, since Roger hardly ever takes those but hopefully with an extra day in between Roger will recover).  The medical time out seemed to have helped both recover mentally.     

It started off better then I expected with Fed eventually going up 2 sets to none. When he lost that 3rd set I had flashbacks to all other 5 setters in semis he's lost in recent years (which I believe has been at least 5). I chose not to watch this live though, (given it would have been on around 4am) so I knew the result before watching.  And unlike the other semis I did breathe a little easier knowing he was 2 sets up.

But I still couldn't believe this went 5 sets it should have been over in 3 or 4. I think this win came down to hard work, and a little bit of luck, as well as Stan's level of play going way down in the last set.  But as they say in sport, a win is a win. And this one will certainly be remembered as another classic I'm sure.

Whoever ends up being his opponent and lets's face it it'll probably be Rafael Nadal, because I just don't see Dimitrov pulling that big of an upset (even though a big part of me is hoping he can do just that).  The practical side of me is pretty much betting on a re-match of the 2009 final.  

Which all Fed fans will remember as a 5 set heart-breaker (with a very tearful Roger).  It still breaks my heart just thinking back on it.  

Whatever happens it was a hell of a ride regardless.  One his fans and Roger Federer himself did not expect, or predict so I'm gonna enjoy the hell out of it now and on Sunday.  And at the same time I'm gonna dare to hope for #18.  Go Fed!.  You ageless miracle.

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