Australian Open 2020: Roger Federer battles past John Millman and a case of nervous 90s to enter 4th round with 100th win

At Australian Open, Roger Federer battles past John Millman and a case of nervous 90s to enter 4th round with 100th win

Anuradha Santhanam January 24, 2020 23:46:04 IST
Australian Open 2020: Roger Federer battles past John Millman and a case of nervous 90s to enter 4th round with 100th win
  • Roger Federer’s track record at five-set matches in recent times has not been anything to write home about.

  • The crowd may have been rather torn on this one: Millman is, after all, a home hope, but what tennis fan isn’t really a Federer supporter at heart?

  • Federer, for all his skill, did not look in ideal touch. His forehand, so often his best weapon, produced 41 of his 60 unforced errors.

In tennis, as in any sport, a century is usually an occasion to celebrate. On Friday, Roger Federer, who has six Australian Open titles already to his name, won his one-hundredth match at Melbourne.

Australian Open 2020 Roger Federer battles past John Millman and a case of nervous 90s to enter 4th round with 100th win

Roger Federer makes a forehand return to Australia's John Millman during their third round singles match at the Australian Open. AP Photo

But this particular century may not be one Federer will want to relive any time soon. He has already once been put through the wringer by John Millman in the US Open of 2018, where the Australian went on to achieve his own best result at a Grand Slam.

Off late, too, Federer’s track record at five-set matches has not been anything to write home about. The Swiss currently holds a 55.8 percent record in fifth-set matches, and if his last epic final against Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon last year is anything to go by, they can most certainly end in heartbreak.

In Friday’s match, it was not that we were treated to any poor display from Federer, whatever a poor display from Roger Federer might entail. It was just that Millman, currently ranked 47th in the world, was quite simply playing like he had something to prove. For the rest of us watching the match, however, the first few games should have been quite the indication that this was not going to be any simple match; a 25-shot rally early on made certain of that.

The crowd may have been rather torn on this one: Millman is, after all, a home hope, but what tennis fan isn’t really a Federer supporter at heart? The match was tense down to the first set, and with Millman drawing first blood and racing to 4-1, Federer will have been none too pleased. Immediately, Millman had declared his desire to win. One might wonder if any tennis from Federer is really bad tennis, and somewhere through Millman’s first set assault, Federer fought back with aces back to back, and then breaking Millman back at perhaps the most crucial point he could have.

And then yet again, the Federer game faltered, the Australian hope gleamed, and perhaps — just perhaps — 38-year-old legs did not move as quickly as they could have at the baseline. That being said, the clockwork precision we are used to seeing with Federer’s serves was on full display and then some. And while much has been said about other players and their nerves, who knows how to handle them, perhaps, than the ever-cool Federer? Despite missing a vital close to the second at 6-5, the Swiss nevertheless took that set to tiebreak — and that, that was where he perhaps came truly alive with some electrifying shots to take Set 2.

One way to defeat your opponent, a way Federer knows all too well, is to wear them down until they are tired; and that was how Federer closed out the third set in style. But if there was any doubt as to whether Millman was out of it, well, he declared himself back in in almost Anthony Corleone-esque fashion. Both players dug incredibly deep for shots, Federer coming up to the net repeatedly, a strategy that paid dividends for him in the end. The Swiss won 72 percent of his net points, but Millman was not to be cowed down by the variety of shots Federer had in his arsenal. Long rallies — and a match that went on well past midnight local time was the flavour of the day — or two, meant the match went to a fifth.

And Federer, for all his skill, did not look in ideal touch. His forehand, so often his best weapon, produced 41 of his 60 unforced errors. Federer ended the match with a staggering 82 unforced errors to Millman’s 48, but he was also significantly better at the net than his Australian rival hoped to be.

In the end, everyone was nervous. Both sides of the crowd, whomever they were supporting. Those watching the match from near, and far. The players themselves, their teams, and of course, Mirka Federer. Despite committing errors and flubbing shots at crucial junctures, it truly appeared as though both Millman and Federer were quite simply waiting for the other to blink first.

It was only perhaps in the last minute that the nerves finally did get to Millman, who still, no doubt, put on one of the best displays of tennis we have seen at this Australian Open. Rapt in attention and focused on one single goal, Federer scored six consecutive points to take what was likely the single hardest-earned win of this tournament so far. And make no mistake — while Federer has doubtless the superior experience, the skill, and the titles to bolster them, Friday night’s match was a battle of nerves and concentration, of focus in the extreme, and of an epic fight that eventually ended 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(8).

But to borrow a well-worn cliche, truly, everyone was a winner tonight. Even the exhausted Millman.

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