Monday 27 February 2017

Tennis: Federer survives 'craziest' of tests

Kevin Garside in Melbourne

Roger Federe beat Nikolay Davydenko yesterday after a crazy game Photo: Getty Images
Roger Federe beat Nikolay Davydenko yesterday after a crazy game Photo: Getty Images

Look out for a new ride at Disney this year. It's called the 'Nikolay Davydenko'. It takes you to the top of the mountain then slings you over the side without a rope.

Roger Federer was invited to have a go yesterday and did not know where he was at the end of a match described by Brad Gilbert as the craziest he had ever seen.

Federer won the third set to love -- in a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5 victory -- while hitting only two winners off his own racket. And this after Davydenko had Federer lunging around the baseline like a novice. At a set and a break down, Federer appeared cooked, his run of 22 consecutive grand slam semi-finals at an end.

Then Davydenko did what only he can: he morphed into someone else, someone who had never hit a tennis ball before. At least Goran Ivanisevic only had good Goran and Bad Goran to worry about. Who knows how many Nikolays are running around in Davydenko's head.

He had only to lift the ball over the net to establish a lead of 6-2, 4-1. Instead he buried the ball in it and would not win another game for an hour.

Pillaged

During that grim sequence, in which 13 consecutive games were pillaged by Federer, Davydenko was pronounced dead on court before being upgraded by Gilbert to the rank of zombie.

It was hard to disagree with his assessment of Davydenko, who had no explanation for his decline.

Asked how he felt during the winless streak he raised his arms and smiled: "F****d off. Everything was s**t. Come on guys. What can you do? Go home tomorrow and relax."

Davydenko returned to himself in the fourth set, breaking as Federer served for the match. "When he hit those returns I thought it was so unnecessary, you know. I was saying, why now? Why not some other time when it wasn't so important," Federer said. "Match point, I send down a great serve and he blocks it back. I did not have a chance to play the point."

Federer got there in the end to stretch the semi-final elastic band to an unprecedented 23. Of those he has won all but three. "Ladies and gentleman, the master is in the house -- 23 consecutive grand slam semi-finals," was how the stadium announcer hailed our hero.

Federer looked almost embarrassed at the fuss being made of him. He recognised that caprice played as much a part in this journey as his racket.

"I knew I wasn't looking very good. But I wasn't panicking. It is the best of five sets. I just relaxed and thought, if the sun goes and maybe his level drops a little bit the whole match might change for the better. It did. I can't believe the way it changed, you know.

"It is incredible looking back how many years that I have been able to deliver a grand slam semi, especially this year. Looking at the draw with Hewitt in the fourth round and Davydenko in the quarters I knew it was going to be tough. I thought I was not going to make it this time. You are always worried that your streak is going to be broken. It's definitely one of the most amazing things I have done."

Federer made 11 unforced errors in the opening three games. The first went to five deuces before Federer prevailed. He was 4-1 down in 20 minutes. It could have been five had Davydenko converted the break points in the opening game. Federer opted for the bathroom break after the first set. Judging by the time it took to go through his ablutions, the principal motive for the hiatus was not the need to spend a penny.

Howitzer

It made no noticeable difference. Having hung on, just, to his opening service game, Federer was torched by Davydenko's howitzer returns in his second.

The spell was broken when Davydenko netted an easy pass, which would have given him a 4-1 lead. Federer fed on the momentum swing to hold on to his serve and break back in the next. Davydenko was back in his box, barely able to put the ball in court. Federer broke again en route to taking the set. That was that, save for Davydenko's weird rally at the close.

"I can't explain what happened," Davydenko said. "I was confident in the beginning. I had so many chances to make that break in the second, I know if I take one I can win the match. But something changed. I could not win any more games. Maybe Federer was lucky today. Again." That raised a laugh.

Federer will play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semi-finals after his 7-6, 6-7, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 win over Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic, who quit with heat stroke in the quarter-finals last year, left the court during the fourth set for another medical time-out and threw up in the locker room. On this occasion he returned to complete the match but that did not change the outcome. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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