Federer saves 7 match points in Australian Open thriller

Even in the twilight of his career, Roger Federer is still capable of conjuring the near impossible. The 38-year-old Swiss produced another miraculous comeback to save seven match points and stun Tennys Sandgren 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-3 to reach the Australian Open semifinals.

“You’ve got to get lucky sometimes,” Federer said with a smile in his on-court interview. “I was just hoping that maybe he wasn’t going to smash a winner, if he misses one or two match points, who knows what’s going to happen? I think I got incredibly lucky today.

“As the match went on, I started to feel better and just tried to play. I believe in miracles. There could be rain. Just let him finish me off in style, and he didn’t do that. I’m still standing here and obviously just very happy.”

Federer remains unbeaten (15-0) in quarter-finals at this event. The Swiss has also won his past six five-set matches in Melbourne, completing another great escape last week by rallying from 4/8 in the fifth-set tie-break of his third-round clash with John Millman.

Next up for him is second-seeded Serbian Novak Djokovic, who beat No. 32 seed Milos Raonic of Canada in straight sets. Federer trails Djokovic 23-26 in their rivalry and has lost their past three matches in Melbourne, all of which took place in the semi-finals (2008, 2011, 2016).

“The draws are not getting easier. But I’ve got the next two days with nothing to do. You do feel better and you just never know. With these lucky escapes, you might play without expectations because you know you should be skiing in Switzerland. Might as well make the most of it!”

Federer applied pressure from the first ball in the opening set. Sandgren erased a pair of break points in his first service game, then fought back from 0/40 two games later. But Federer kept knocking on the door and it opened at 3-2, with the six-time champion securing a break after Sandgren sent a backhand long. He maintained his slight advantage and cracked a first serve on set point to take the early lead.

The Swiss has been prone to streaks of unforced errors this fortnight and endured another spell of them early in the second set. With Sandgren using his outstanding speed to make Federer play one more ball, the 28-year-old tracked down a deep forehand on break point at 1-0 and floated up a high lob, drawing a smash error from Federer to grab his first break of the day.

Federer struggled to find the range on his shots, hitting 15 unforced errors throughout the second set. Serving at 2-5, the third seed's backhand hit the top of the tape on set point and allowed Sandgren to level the match.

The unseeded American scored another break against the Swiss to lead 2-0 in the third set, causing the crowd inside Rod Laver Arena to gasp in unison. With the prospect of a maiden Grand Slam semi-final becoming more realistic, Sandgren blocked out any signs of nerves and remained calm.

Facing triple break point at 2-0, he unleashed a series of booming serves and eventually held. Sandgren continued to increase his first-serve percentage, beefing it up from 46 per cent in the first set to 70 per cent in the third set.

Federer left the court for a medical timeout at 0-3, but it didn't change Sandgren's dominance on serve. Most of his aces came in the Ad court, but he also consistently pushed the Swiss out wide to his forehand in the Deuce court, setting up one-two punches to keep points short.

Although Federer's movement appeared to be hampered, he fought for every point. He bravely erased five set points on his serve at 2-5, but Sandgren converted his sixth chance after a Federer backhand found the net, pumping his fist at his team as he moved closer to a career-defining win.

Both players traded comfortable service holds in the fourth set until Sandgren reached match point with Federer serving at 4-5. But the prospect of defeating the six-time champion suddenly showed in the American’s groundstrokes, with three match-point opportunities vanishing due to nervy errors. Federer eventually held with a forehand winner as the crowd roared in approval.

The set eventually moved to a tie-break and it was Federer who blinked first, hitting a loose forehand to give the American a 4/3 mini-break advantage. Another three match points came Sandgren's way at 6/3, but the Swiss shockingly erased all of them and hit a swinging forehand volley winner at 6/5 to level the score.

A seventh match point came and went at 7/6 after Sandgren hit a slice backhand into the net. Federer, at long last, earned a set point of his own at 8/7, but the American quickly removed it with an ace. Federer secured a 9/8 mini-break lead after the American pulled a forehand wide, then brought the match to a decider after Sandgren sent a smash from the baseline well long.

Sandgren stayed with Federer in the early stages of the final set, but the effects of squandering seven match points had understandably taken a toll mentally. Federer found new life in his movement and pace on his forehand, cracking a down-the-line forehand at 3-2 to earn a critical break. He made good on his first match point, launching a big first serve to wrap up play after three hours and 31 minutes.

“For most of the time there, I thought that was it,” said Federer. “Of course, there's little sparkles where maybe not, then you're like, no, it is over. Only maybe when I won that fourth set did I really think that maybe this whole thing could turn around.

“Honestly, when they told me seven match points, I was like, ‘What? I thought it was three.’ It's such a blur at some point.

“You go through a lot of different moments,” admitted Federer, who left the court for a medical time out due to a groin strain at 0-3 in the third set. “I figured the way I came back from the injury time-out, still being a little bit worried how things are, that didn't help. You hope sometimes you can solve things with a medical timeout, but that was not really the case.

“That third set was halfway gone anyhow, so it was just a matter of coming to terms with what do I have, what don't I have in my game. I figured in the fourth set, somehow things could go quickly or maybe I'll hang around for a bit, or eventually he'll get the break, because he was playing very well.”

Federer hopes his groin went tight through spending 12 hours and 44 minutes on court in five matches, but he’ll find out the full extent of the problem on Wednesday. “I started to feel it about midway through the second set,” he said.

“I can get through a match like this, through a match like Millman, yes, you do believe. I only believe it over once it's over. I shake the hand of the opponent, that it's over, that it's fine.

“Grand Slams are definitely tough in many different ways. Then again, I didn't feel like I wasted too much emotional energy out there today because I came to terms quickly that things weren't exactly the way I wanted them to be. Instead of dwelling over them, I felt like I'll just play with it, see what can be done, see if he can put me away or not.

“When I got to the fifth set, I was like, ‘Oh, it's already fifth set’. I don't feel physically exhausted like against Millman. I recovered very well from that match. I'm also hopeful because I feel like I didn't get spent completely today. I'm hopeful that I can recover actually.”

Date: 28 January 2020, Source: ATP and Australian Open

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