Federer aiming to break through 20-slam barrier
Roger Federer will play for a 20th major title tomorrow after his semi-final opponent, Chung Hyeon, of South Korea, was forced to pull out of yesterday's semi-final before the end of the second set.
It was the second anticlimactic match on Rod Laver Arena in as many days, after Kyle Edmund had been hampered by a hip problem during his semi-final against Marin Cilic.
The two younger men had defied all expectations by surging through to the last four, but when they walked out for the biggest occasions of their short careers, they found they had little left to give.
In Chung's case, he was undone by a blister on his left foot - a similar problem, coincidentally, to the one that reduced Cilic to tears during his Wimbledon final against Federer last summer.
This might sound like a minor excuse for a withdrawal, especially in view of the 15,000 fans who had paid hefty sums to attend this marquee event. But as Stuart Duguid, Chung's agent, explained, there are two sorts of blisters: the ones we civilians are familiar with, and the ones tennis players suffer from.
"Over the last few days, it was blister under blister under blister," said Duguid. "He had it shaved off. Now it's red raw. They tried injections to see if it numbed the pain. It didn't work."
Federer also offered his sympathy, revealing he had been aware of the problem before the match, and that Chung had been carrying it during his previous wins against Novak Djokovic and Tennys Sandgren.
Trailing 6-2, 5-2 yesterday, the pain became too much for the 21-year-old. The result means that Federer has yet to drop a set in this tournament. In all honesty, he has not been seriously tested. Tomas Berdych made a strong start in the quarter-final before reverting to type, and everyone else has apparently been overwhelmed by the experience of facing tennis royalty.
Will Cilic fare better tomorrow? He comes in with the significant disadvantage of having spent 17 hours on court, more than half as much again as Federer.
But he does at least know his opponent socially, which ought to dissolve some of the mystique. It emerged last night that, by complete coincidence, the pair had found themselves holidaying on the same Maldives island in November.
"I was there first," said Federer, in a statement that could apply to much of his career. "I was told Marin was coming. After two days, he wrote me, 'I'm here, too, in case you want to catch up and stuff'.
"We met up later for drinks, met his fiancée. We had cake together, my whole family and him. We actually went to practice twice for 45 minutes. It was nice and laid back. To get to know the man behind the tennis player, I guess."
The circumstances will be different when Federer and Cilic take the court tomorrow. A full stadium, TV cameras on every corner and millions hanging on Federer's bid to break the 20-slam barrier.
Even Federer admits such records were far from his mind when he arrived in Australia last year, seeded 17th and fresh from a six-month lay-off forced by his wonky knee.
In yesterday's on-court interview, Jim Courier asked Federer whether he could have envisaged this scenario 12 months ago.
"I wouldn't be thinking this way," came the reply. "I know how hard it is to win any major. I didn't give up hope but I would have taken one more major before I retired."
© Daily Telegraph, London
- Australian Open men's final, live, Eurosport, 8.0am tomorrow