“I have massive regrets tonight,” Roger Federer admitted as his bid for a record seventh Australian Open title came to an end in the fourth round at the hands of 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion, who arrived at Melbourne Park chasing a third straight Australian Open crown, was beaten 6-7(11) 7-6(3) 7-5 7-6(5) in front of a rapturous crowd at Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night.
Federer paid tribute to Tsitsipas, the No.14 seed advancing to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal to face Roberto Bautista Agut, but was left to rue the 12 break points that came and went through the first three sets of the match – eight in the second set, four of which were set points.
“I felt like I have to win the second set,” said Federer, who had beaten Tsitsipas in two tiebreak sets at the Hopman Cup earlier this month. “I don't care how I do it, but I have to do it. Cost me the game tonight.
“There are always multiple factors that play into a match like this. But it definitely didn't go the way I was hoping on the break points. I also didn't break him at the Hopman Cup, so clearly something is wrong how I return him, what I'm trying to do. He's doing a good job to defend them.”
Tsitsipas had paid tribute to Federer’s influence on his own playing style, the Greek attributing his attacking, volley-centric brand of tennis to analysing the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s game since the age of six.
“He has a one-handed backhand, and I used to have long hair, too,” Federer joked when the comparison was put to him. “Maybe a little bit, sure.
“I think he's definitely done a really nice job now, the last year and a half. Before that, too, obviously. But beating Novak [Djokovic] in Toronto, the likes of [Kevin] Anderson and [Alexander] Zverev, now me here. That's what you need to do to get to the next level. He's doing that. It's really nice for him. I see him definitely being high up in the game for a long time.”
Asked if this result represented a changing of the guard, as announced by John McEnroe in the aftermath on court, he replied: “I've heard that story the last 10 years.”
Speaking to the French press corps, Federer revealed his intention to play during the clay court season in 2019 for the first time in three years, raising the prospect of a return to Roland-Garros, where he last competed in 2015.
"I’m at a point in my career where I want to have fun,” said Federer, who made his decision prior to the Australian Open.
“I’ll admit I missed it, though last year it was a good decision not to, and the year before that I was injured. I wanted to do it again, maybe not have another big break. I’ve had those, and I didn’t feel it was so necessary for my tennis. So it was sort of decided like that.”
As for the match, played in a febrile atmosphere both at Rod Laver Arena and within Melbourne Park at large, Federer conceded that Tsitsipas had earned the victory.
“It was okay,” he said of his own performance, having hit 61 winners to Tsitsipas’s 62, but producing 55 unforced errors, 33 from his misfiring forehand alone.
“I lost to a better player who was playing very well tonight – hung in there, gave himself chances at some point, stayed calm. It's not always easy, especially for younger guys. Credit to him for taking care of that.
“Conditions also changed throughout the match, like every year when you start at 7pm and go into the night. It gets harder to go through the opponent. I thought conditions were definitely a bit slower this year than last year – didn't allow for as much variation, to be quite honest.
“But he did a nice job of taking care of his half-volleys. That's maybe what won him the match tonight, I'm not sure.”
I'm sad and disappointed, but not as upset, or shocked as I was about the U.S. Open last year.
Early losses hurt a lot less than really close matches in a final. Like U.S. Open 2011 for example.
Having said all that, Roger had his chances and he knows it, which is why he said he has massive regrets. I really wish the media would stop with the changing of the guard BS.
It won't be the true changing of the guard until Roger retires, got it?.
And that's not happening just yet.
While we're at it let's quit it with the retire stuff on social media, the guy played a player 17 years his junior for 4 hours. That doesn't say hang up your raquet to me.
Also please let's not have John McEnroe do the on court interviews anymore. Please. Jim Courier is doing a fine job let's just stick with him ok Aussie Open?.
I can honestly say, I'm really excited for the clay for the first time in years. Bring it on.