Saturday 29 April 2017

Federer keeps on course for dream Open decider

Roger Federer returns a serve during his Australian Open quarter-final victory over Mischa Zverev yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
Roger Federer returns a serve during his Australian Open quarter-final victory over Mischa Zverev yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Simon Briggs

Roger Federer was the headline act on another vintage day at the Australian Open. Should Rafael Nadal continue the trend by winning his own quarter-final today, the whole tournament will start to feel like a throwback to 2005.

The possibility of a Federer-Nadal final is already causing excited comment here, even though there are plenty of other good players - most obviously Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic - who would love to break up the party.

"If that happens," said the former US Open champion Andy Roddick, "it has to be the most important match in Australian Open history and possibly Grand Slam history.

"If Rafa wins it's 15-17 (for their respective Grand Slam titles), and the French Open is around the corner. It's literally game on for the most slams ever. If Roger wins, it's 18-14."

These calculations may or may not be relevant in a few days' time. But for the moment, Federer is enjoying even more delirious support than Peter Colt, the fictitious tennis champion who starred in the Paul Bettany romcom 'Wimbledon'.

Federer has always had a Hollywood glamour about him, but to return from a six-month injury lay-off to reach the semi-final here is a script that few would be brave enough to write.

At Rod Laver Arena yesterday, Federer faced Mischa Zverev, who ambushed Andy Murray in the fourth round. But where Murray never saw the knockout blow coming, Federer was ready with a counter-attack of his own. He filleted Zverev like a steak, using his glorious backhand - his weaker wing - to do the carving.

Zverev was coming into this match on a 13-game losing streak against Federer, having suffered a 6-0, 6-0 defeat in their most recent meeting in 2013. The opening set was done in 19 minutes, and Federer claimed his first match point after 92 minutes to win 6-1, 7-5, 6-2.

Federer felt so confident by the third set that he kept taking Zverev's serve on the half-volley - a tactic he has christened the SABR, or Sneak Attack By Roger.

Rewarded

His ambition was rewarded with the unlikely tally of 65 clean winners in a rapid three-set match.

The great man underestimated himself when he came to Melbourne, having delivered a mixed bag of results at the Hopman Cup exhibition in Perth. "I thought I would maybe win a few rounds," he said.

"If someone would have told me I'd play in the semis against Stan (Wawrinka), never would I have called that one."

At 35, Federer becomes the oldest semi-finalist here since Arthur Ashe in 1976. He has spearheaded a superb tournament for the over-thirties, whose number also includes not only Nadal and Wawrinka but the Williams sisters and the inspirational Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, a quarter-finalist at 36.

In Federer's case, he explained yesterday how he had deliberately plotted a lengthier career by taking longer vacations than his rivals.

"I remember some years I wouldn't hit tennis balls for four to five weeks. Sometimes I was talking to the team and thinking it was too much time off almost.

"But I guess looking back overall, it was probably a good decision to take." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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