By now Roger Federer should have been back in Switzerland, embarking on the family skiing holiday he has planned.
Instead he will be battling Novak Djokovic here in a repeat of last summer’s epic Wimbledon final, after proving again that he is the master escapologist. Somehow you doubt it will get as far as it did on that giddy Sunday in July, because just surviving this far must have taken its toll.
‘I believe in miracles,’ said Federer, who saved a career-high seven match points before beating Tennessean Tennys Sandgren, the world No 100, 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3 in a match that would have broken many players 10 years his junior.
Roger Federer has progressed to the semi-finals of the Australian Open with a stunning victory
As in his third round against John Millman, Federer had looked destined for the slopes, and the 38-year-old Swiss could find himself ushered that way if Djokovic continues his seamless run of form in Australia.
Despite needing drops for irritable eyes, he saw off the awkward power of Canadian Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-3, 7-6. He will face Federer having not lost to him at a major since 2012.
It will be their 50th meeting, with the Serb leading the series 26-23. Federer won their last encounter, in November at the O2 in London before a partisan crowd, but that bucked the trend. At least Federer will have 48 hours’ rest before tackling Djokovic, and in some ways it will be a free hit against the seven-times champion.
Federer greets opponent Tennys Sandgren at the net following their five-set thriller
‘You might play all of sudden without any expectations anymore, because you know you should be skiing in Switzerland,’ he said. ‘I was already on the way there. There you go, lucky to be here, and I might as well make the most of it.
‘I don’t know if you’d call what I have an injury, it’s just pain and problems. Now I have two good nights of sleep.’
The semi-final will struggle to contain the drama either of the Wimbledon match or this quarter-final against Sandgren.
American Sandgren was on the brink of victory but failed to get over the line
Not since 2003, playing Australian Scott Draper, has Federer needed to save the seven match points he was confronted with late in the fourth set.
Not only that, but the saintly Swiss was reported by a line-judge to umpire Marijana Veljovic for using the F-word and took a rare, and prolonged, medical timeout when 3-0 down and completely out of sorts in the third set. He disingenuously claimed his expletives were a ‘mix’ of languages. Then there was a bizarre incident in the fourth set tiebreak at the changeover when a ballgirl ran into Sandgren by accident and jarred his knee, although he still forced four match points after that.
‘You have to get lucky sometimes,’ said Federer. ‘I was starting to feel my groin, it was really tight, maybe through nerves or having played a lot. I don’t like calling the physio, it’s a sign of weakness.
A fuming Federer was seen confronting a linesperson during the third game in the third set
‘I believe in miracles, there could have been rain, it wasn’t bad enough that I thought it was going to get worse. My draw is not getting easier. But if I can get through a match like this I can believe.’
The draw getting tougher is no understatement, as he has so far not even faced someone in the top 40. It tells you something of Federer’s waning potency on hard courts that it has been a mountainous task to get this far, even given such a smooth run. Djokovic will not retreat into himself on match points in the way Sandgren did.
With Rafael Nadal due to face Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals today, the expectation must be that on Sunday either the Spaniard will equal Federer’s total of 20 Grand Slams, or Djokovic will further cut his lead. In today’s other quarter-final, Federer’s compatriot Stan Wawrinka takes on No 7 seed Alex Zverev, of Germany.
According to commentators, Federer had let out an ‘R-rated German word’ and was shocked when Serbian chair umpire Marijana Veljovic called a code violation for an ‘audible obscenity’
In the doubles, Putney’s Joe Salisbury is through to his second Grand Slam semi-final after surviving a nasty blow to the head that caused a six-minute timeout before he was cleared to carry on.
The rising star of British doubles was hit on the neck by Finland’s Henri Kontinen as he and partner Rajeev Ram defeated the Finn and Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 6-4. Salisbury and the veteran American will now face Kazakhstan’s talented pairing of Alexander Bublik and Mikhail Kukushkin.
Veljovic explained the Swiss lineswoman had heard him swear ‘very clearly’
Federer needed medical attention during the quarter-final clash with the American
World No 3 Federer appeared to be heading home before he rallied back in the fourth set
Fans cheer on Federer during his epic contest with Sandgren in Melbourne on Tuesday