Melbourne: Defending champion Novak Djokovic set up a semi-final showdown with ‘Big Three’ rival Roger Federer at the Australian Open on Tuesday with a thumping 6-4 6-3 7-6(1) victory over Canada’s hapless Milos Raonic.
Federer had saved seven match points in a five-set thriller with American battler Tennys Sandgren only hours before but there was no such luck of a second successive belter for the fans at Rod Laver Arena, with Djokovic at his ruthless best.
The floodlit match between Raonic, one of the tour’s most vexing servers, against one of its most brilliant returners had promised, at the least, an intriguing clash of styles.
Yet, barring a third set lull for Djokovic as he struggled with his contact lenses, it was a stroll for the second seeded Serb who dismantled the Canadian’s power game to book an eighth semi-final at his Melbourne Park fortress.
Federer survives scare against Sandgren
Roger Federer was not going to go gently, of course, no matter how daunting the number of match points — his opponent accumulated seven! — no matter how achy his 38-year-old legs, no matter how slow his serves, no matter how off-target his groundstrokes.
Federer still plays for the love of these stages and circumstances. Still yearns for more trophies, too. Down to his very last gasp, time and again, against someone a decade younger, 100th-ranked Tennys Sandgren of the United States, Federer somehow pulled off a memorable comeback to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the 15th time.
Despite all sorts of signs he was not quite himself for much of the match, Federer beat the biceps-baring, hard-hitting, court-covering Sandgren 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-3 on Tuesday in a rollicking quarter-final that appeared to be over long before it truly was.
"As the match went on, I started to feel better again and all the pressure went away," 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer said afterward, mentioning that his groin muscle was bothering him. "I don't deserve this one, but I'm standing here and I'm obviously very, very happy."
Federer vs. Sandgren was dramatic as can be.
Federer was involved in a dispute with the chair umpire over cursing. Left the court for a medical timeout early in the third set, then was visited by a trainer later for a right leg massage.
And, above all, found himself in a tense tussle with Sandgren, a 28-year-old from Tennessee who's never been a major semifinalist and was trying to become the lowest-ranked man in the Australian Open's final four since Patrick McEnroe — John's younger brother — was No. 114 in 1991.
Oh, how close Sandgren came to the monumental upset. And imagine the heartbreak for someone who toiled for years on lower-level tours then was thrilled just to take this stage against Federer.
After rolling through the second and third sets as Federer's serves dropped from an average of 112 mph to 105 mph and his unforced errors totaled 30, Sandgren led 5-4 in the fourth set. With Federer serving, Sandgren had a trio of opportunities to end things and complete a career-defining victory. On the first, Sandgren dumped a backhand into the net. On the second, he pushed a forehand wide. On the third, another forehand found the net.
On they went to a tiebreaker, which included the bizarre sight of a ballkid running into Sandgren's right calf at the 3-all changeover. Didn't seem to bother the guy, though, because he grabbed the next three points to put himself a single point from winning.
But Sandgren failed to close the deal at 6-3 ... or at 6-4 ... or at 6-5 ... or at 7-6.
"Got to get lucky sometimes, I'll tell you that," Federer said. "Because in those seven match points, you're not under control."
On Federer's own second chance to take that set and force a fifth, Sandgren hit a ball that landed near the baseline. Federer thought it might be out — he turned to look at a line judge for a call that never came — yet barely flicked it back in a defensive manner, and Sandgren's overhead smash went long.
Federer wagged his right index finger overhead — the universal sign for "I'm No. 1!" — and was on the right path. He ended the victory with a service winner at 119 mph, a little more than an hour after first staring down defeat.
Federer has won six Australian Opens and never lost to anyone ranked worse than 54th. But Sandgren, whose career tour-level record is under .500, played superbly — he produced edges of 27-5 in aces, 73-44 in total winners — for all but the seven most crucial points.
He won every point he needed to — more than Federer, even, 161 to 160 — except that little matter of winning the last.
Other than the first set and the fifth, Federer's footwork was hardly perfect, the lower-body push he normally gets to add oomph to forehands and serves nonexistent.
At the US Open last September, it was Federer's upper back and neck that bothered him in a five-set quarterfinal loss to Grigor Dimitrov, who was ranked 78th at the time.
In this tournament, the No. 3-seeded Federer still hasn't played anyone ranked better than No. 41 Filip Krajinovic, whom he beat in the second round. Federer was pushed to the brink in the third round by No. 47 John Millman, two points from defeat before coming back to claim a fifth-set tiebreaker. And in the fourth round, Federer dropped the opening set to No. 67 Marton Fucsovics.
The last two men's quarterfinals are on Wednesday: No. 1 Rafael Nadal vs. No. 5 Dominic Thiem, and No. 7 Alexander Zverev vs. No. 15 Stan Wawrinka.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Jan 28, 2020 18:52:44 IST