Roger Federer at the Australian Open: Consistent Brilliance

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The TT writers and editors have had some time to reflect on the 2016 Australian Open. This is the third in a 3 part series about the fates of this year’s top three seeds. In these articles we will detail their history at the Australian Open, discuss their recent performances, and assess their chances for future titles at the year’s first slam. A new article will be published daily in order of seeding. 

Part 1: Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open: A Champion’s Tale

Part 2: Andy Murray at the Australian Open: A Struggle Down Under

Novak Djokovic has rewritten history at the Australian Open by winning the men’s singles title a record 6 times. However, there’s another man who dominated down-under and still remains a force to be reckoned with.

Yes, you guessed it right. It’s the man who has written his name in every tennis record book published since 2003, the Swiss Maestro Roger Federer.

Early days (1998-2003):

During his teen years, Federer struggled to cope with his temper and emotional outbreaks. He was recognised as a prodigious talent right from an early but failed to make it count until his breakthrough victory at Wimbledon 2003.

Federer failed to make an impact at Melbourne until 2004, despite qualifying for the first time in 1999. His best results until then were 4R exits in 2002, 2003

Domination Down-Under: (2004-10)

Federer’s victory at Wimbledon 2003 kick-started his ascent to world domination. A player full of potential had transformed into potentially the greatest man to have ever picked up a tennis racket.

Titles on Rebound-Ace:

Maiden Title (2004):

Federer had a point to make after his victory at Wimbledon 2003. He wanted to prove to himself and the world that it was no fluke and that he thoroughly deserved his rewards. Having lost to Nalbandian at the 2003 US Open R4, Federer came into the AO 2004 with a mission-at-hand.

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Federer’s maiden title at the Australian Open came in 2004, when he beat Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian and Marat Safin with some scintillating attacking tennis. Federer dropped only one set through the tournament and firmly cemented himself as the World No.1 with this victory dethroning Andy Roddick.

Marat Safin stuns the Swiss Juggernaut (2005):

Having won 3 of 4 slams in 2004 and compiling a 81-4 W-L record in 2004, Federer’s level had reached improbable heights, whereas Safin had been the perpetual under-achiever failing to make inroads at tournaments of any level whatsoever.

Every dog has his day, as they say and Safin’s day came at the SF of Australian Open 2004. Federer came into the match an overwhelming favourite having demolished Andre Agassi in straight sets in the QF.

Federer’s level had been so high that Agassi had described it as “scary”.

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However, in a marathon 5 setter played-out under the lights, Marat Safin upset the odds to pull off a remarkable victory over Federer after saving a match-point in the 4th set tiebreak.

It is widely considered one of the greatest hard-court matches every played in the Open Era with both players at a very high level and hitting more winners than unforced errors. T

he Russian’s backhand down the line in particular was on fire that day, so much so that Safin himself admitted that he was surprised by his level of play and praised Federer for a valiant fight.

Back with a vengeance (2006):

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Federer’s 2006 campaign was extremely underwhelming. After surviving a 5 set marathon against Tommy Haas, Federer’s game clicked into place. Despite dropping a set against Nicholas Kiefer and indefatigable Russian Nikolay Davydenko, Federer remained firmly on course.

Federer claimed his 2nd Australian Open title beating Cypriot Marcos Bagdatis in 4 sets. Although the 1st time finalist took the first set, Federer claimed the next 3 in commanding fashion, bagelling his opponent in the process.

thanked everybody for the support, in tears, with a very emotional title acceptance speech.

Flawless dominance (2007):

After going 92-5 in 2006, by virtue of winning 41 consecutive matches, Federer came into the 2007 Australian Open as an unstoppable force. And what ensued was beyond what everyone expected.

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Federer won the title beating Fernando Gonzalez in straight sets. In doing so, Federer created a new open era record by becoming the only tennis player to win a Grand Slam title without losing a set.

This time his level was so good, even Federer felt intimidated.

“So far my career has followed Pete’s almost in parallel. It’s kind of scary. I don’t know what to say.”

  • Roger Federer after winning the Australian Open 2007

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This was Federer’s 3rd Australian Open title and 7th Grand Slam title overall, and Federer even defeated would-be rival Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the QF en-route to the title.

Mononucleosis and back injury aggravated by Plexi-cushion (2009):

The surface at the Australian Open had been changed from Rebound-Ace to Plexi-cushion after weak players complained that the former was physically brutal to play on and blamed it for their injuries.

Federer, however, had a different set of problems to deal with. Before the start of the season, the Swiss was affected by the dreaded mono-fever, which caused physical and emotional let-downs throughout the tournament.

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Federer was often found lacking inspiration, urging himself on by sheer will rather than the panache that he is renowned for. Federer survived a 5 set battle against Janko Tipsarevic and fought valiantly against eventual champion, Novak Djokovic before losing in three extremely tight sets.

Federer conceded that Djokovic deserved the match, despite going on to have a relatively poor season by his standards at the time.

Heartbreak at the hands of Nadal (2009):

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Having beaten Marat Safin in straight sets and survived a brutal 5 setter against Tomas Berdych, Federer found a rich vein of form to dismantle Juan Martin Del Potro in the QF and Andy Roddick in the SF.

Federer’s 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 victory against Juan Martin Del Potro remains one of the most dominant performances in the Open Era.

Federer entered the final knowing he could equal Pete Sampras’s all-time record of 14 grand slam wins.

History, however, was put on hold at the Rod Laver Arena when Rafael Nadal, playing in his first AO final, defeated Roger Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2, in what was arguably the greatest hard-court final in recent memory.

Federer’s first serve had let him down throughout the match and a dismal 39% second serve points won was insufficient to defeat one of the greatest defenders in tennis history.

Nadal managed to get well and truly inside Federer’s head, thrashing him in the 2008 French Open final when the Swiss won only four games, then taking the Wimbledon title in 5 sets and dethroning him as the World No.1. Rafael Nadal had now won a major on all three surfaces, and became the first male Spaniard to win a major on hard courts.

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“God, it’s killing me…”

  • Roger Federer after receiving the runner-up plate from Rod Laver after losing to Nadal.

The loss shook Federer so much, that he broke down in tears during the trophy presentation ceremony, only for Nadal to comfort him with an arm around his neck. It was a moment etched forever in tennis history.

The Redemption (2010):

Federer had lost two 5 set finals in 2009 including the heart-breaking Australian Open defeat, and despite reaching all four grand slam finals, Federer’s dominance at the upper echelons of the sport was brought into question. Federer had overtaken Pete Sampras’ grand slam by winning 15 titles, but the Swiss Maestro wasn’t done just yet.

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After staring down a stern test at the hands of Nikolay Davydenko, Federer roared back into life winning the rest of the tournament without dropping a set through the way.

The SF and Final saw Federer produce some of his flawless tennis, dispatching 2008 finalist Tsonga and British hope Andy Murray.

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This was Federer’s first grand slam as a husband and father, since getting hitched in latter half of 2009, and the birth of his twin girls.

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It was Murray’s turn to cry after the Scot missed multiple set points in the 3rd set tiebreak having a failed to convert multiple opportunities in all three sets.

“Congratulations to Roger. His achievements in tennis are incredible … He was a lot better than me tonight.

Hopefully one time I can come back and win here. Got great support back home the past two weeks. Sorry I couldn’t do it for you tonight.

I can cry like Roger. It’s just a shame I can’t play like him. I’m done. Sorry…”

  • Andy Murray after losing to Federer in the AO 2010 final

This was Federer’s 4th Australian Open title and 16th grand slam victory overall. Inexplicably, Federer went on a 2 year winless streak at the slams after this victory.

Djokovic dominates Down-Under and Federer’s decline (2011-2016):

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Semifinal woes (2011-14):

Djokovic steps out of the shadows (2011):

Federer survived a 5 set scare against Gilles Simon, who fought back from 2 sets to love down to force a decider only to lose the match.

Federer faced Novak Djokovic in the SF and the parallels to the 2008 encounter were tantalizing. Federer was the defending champion on both occasions, they met at the same stage on both occasions and unsurprisingly, the result was the same as well – a straight sets win to Novak Djokovic against the reigning champion. What transpired after the match was also the same – Djokovic went on to lift the title on both occasions.

Nadal strikes again (2012):

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Federer had a largely drama free campaign in 2012, reaching the SF without dropping a set, only to lose the tense match against Rafael Nadal in straight sets, despite winning the first set.

Somehow, Federer managed to build momentum after this crushing loss and went on to reclaim the World No.1 ranking after winning his 17th GS title at Wimbledon.

Downhill (2013):

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Federer had a horrible 2013 and the signs began to show very early. Having survived a marathon 5 setter against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the QF, Federer was forced to 5 sets again by Andy Murray in the SF and this time a tired Federer couldn’t keep up with the younger Scot.

Comeback (2014):

Federer had a rousing tournament after officially playing his worst season (since 2002) of tennis, in 2013. Beating Jo and Murray, his last year tormentors in 3 and 4 sets respectively to the reach the SF yet again.

But, it was a reminder that Rafael Nadal had Roger Federer’s number. Federer’s resurgence at the Australian Open, where he has relished his return to fitness, inspired by the addition of Stefan Edberg to his coaching team, had given hope that he might even find a way past his greatest rival, but Nadal won their semi-final here comfortably.

“I’ve played him 33 times and he’s had just two penalty points over the course of the rivalry. I don’t want to go in the office and complain all the time. I never do. I just hope [the umpires] do their job correctly. If they don’t, what are you going to do? Sit and watch? Sometimes you’ve just got to say things. I didn’t lose the match because of that. It didn’t bother me. I just felt I had to mention it”

  • Federer talking about Nadal taking too long between serves.

Federer, who was disappointed at his failure to make inroads into Nadal’s service games, said the Spaniard had deserved his 7-6, 6-3,  6-3  victory.

Federer was right and the stats conclusively proved that Nadal averaged 34 seconds between serves throughout the year opposed to the official time limit of 20 seconds. But, the loss had more to do with Federer’s game than Nadal’s antics (or tactics)

Over before it started (2015):

Roger Federer, 2R, 21 January 2015

The sense of disbelief that swept Melbourne Park after Roger Federer lost in the third round to Andreas Seppi 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 7-6 (7-5)– for the first time in their 11 meetings and the first time here before his 13 visits to the quarter-finals – hardened into acceptance upon gentler reflection.

“I felt for some reason yesterday and this morning it was not going to be very simple today. Even in practice I still felt the same way. I was just hoping it was one of those feelings you sometimes have and it’s totally not true and you just come out and you play a routine match. Yeah, it was a mistake. When I maybe needed my serve the most, it wasn’t quite there, because my baseline game wasn’t there either. It went in phases. But at least I was able to iron out things a bit [in the third set] and able to play much more solid at the back end of the match. But it just broke me to lose that second set. And actually the fourth, I should win it, too. Just a brutal couple of sets to lose there … I’m on the plane and he’s not, so …”

Federer looked completely lackluster during the match but went on to have a good 2015 where he reached two grand slam finals.

Djokovic spoils the show, again (2016):

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Federer reached the SF yet again after manhandling quality opponents in Dolgopolov, Dimitrov, Goffin and Berdych. But, Federer was drawn to meet Djokovic for 3rd time in the SF here and the result appeared to be headed in the same direction of their previous encounters.

Djokovic could barely put a foot wrong in a dazzling display, breaking Federer’s first service game, winning twice as many points as Federer (52 to 27)  in winning the first 2 sets 6-1, 6-2 and did not face a break point.

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But, Federer didn’t go away quietly, going on the attack in Djokovic’s service game in the 3rd set and with the majority of the crowd on Rod Laver Arena urging him on, Federer converted on his fifth break point of the match. But, luck was on Djokovic’s side as a net cord gave Djokovic the pivotal break in the 4th set allowing him to serve out the match to reach yet another AO final.

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“I think against Roger, these first two sets have been probably the best two sets I’ve played against him overall I think throughout my career. I’ve had some moments against him in sets where I’ve played on a high level, but this was a different level than from before. I’m just very, very pleased that I was able to perform the way I did from the very beginning till the end. It’s not always possible to play this way. You strive to be the best you can be. When you’re playing one of your top rivals, somebody of Roger’s résumé, of course it requires a lot of focus, determination, and a different preparation for that match-up than most of the other matches. So that’s why I came out with I think a great deal of self-belief and confidence and intensity, concentration. I played flawless tennis for first two sets, no doubt about it. I knew that if I dropped my level or concentration or allowed myself to get distracted by anything that he would take the first opportunity, jump on me, and just take the lead of the rallies. That’s what he has done in the third. He just waits for a little drop from his opponent. That’s why he’s been so successful throughout his career. But I was aware of that before the match, so psychologically I did not allow myself to have big oscillations. Of course, there was a lot of excitement from the crowd, as well, towards the end of the third set. Then of course they got into it. It was a great atmosphere. But I’ve played in these particular situations before, and managed to use that experience.”

  • Novak Djokovic talking about his victory against Federer

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“He definitely maybe dropped his level of play just ever so slightly. But that’s all it takes. It’s not easy to keep playing the way he was playing. You can’t read all the serves all the time. I started to get a few more free points. I started to get more opportunities on his service games, as well. Margins are small out there. Even in a match like tonight where the first two sets run away. You can’t get discouraged. You have to keep going, stay aggressive. I think my game started to come more and more. My rhythm, my timing, all that, was a bit off in the beginning. He took advantage of that and did an unbelievable job for a long, long time tonight.” 

  • Federer talking about how he won the 3rd set against an unplayable Novak

Roger Federer Career stats at the Australian Open:

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Legend:

W-L -> Win-Loss count

A – Absent/Did not play

Q1 – Qualifying 1

3R – 3rd Round exit

4R – 4th round exit

SF – Semi finalist

F – Finalist

W – Winner

 


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