Australian Open 2020

Australian Open 2020: Federer into record 15th quarter-final for first Sandgren meeting

Djokovic beats Schwartzman to set 10th Raonic meeting—with 9-0 record

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Roger Federer
Roger Federer (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

Roger Federer nearly didn’t make it to match-win No100 at Melbourne Park on Friday night.

After their meeting at the US Open a few months ago, a John Millman victory, the Swiss anticipated another test against the super-fit Australian, but perhaps not quite such a cliff-hanger: 8-4 down in the deciding match tie-break would have been curtains had this tournament used the regular tie-break format for its fifth set.

More than four hours of intense tennis, with a 1am finish is more than a 38-year-old body needs this early in a Major, so what of his next match, also played late on Sunday night, against Marton Fucsovics?

The Hungarian 27-year-old, ranked 67, did not on paper look a huge threat to the six-time champion, but it took the Swiss almost two hours to get past him last year in Dubai, and a little over two hours to beat him at the same stage of this tournament two years ago.

Indeed, Fucsovics’s current ranking was deceptive. The former Wimbledon junior champion and No1 hit a career-high 31 less than a year ago, and after some off-court issues, his prodigious fitness was again producing improved results. He had already beaten No13 seed Denis Shapovalov, the brilliant teenager Jannik Sinner, and 22-year-old Tommy Paul, dropping only one set in that first match, and was more than

He said in an interview for ATP.com:

“I was a newcomer two years ago, it was my first year in the top 100. I was very hungry and positive. Against Roger, it was a sensation to reach the fourth round and play my idol… I now have more experience, I’m stronger than two years ago, and I really want to beat him.”

Of course he was also more than10 years younger than Federer—and without a four-hour plus third-round in his legs. But then what Federer did have was experience by the bucket-load. This was his 18th fourth-round appearance in Melbourne in the last 19 years—a record 67th in a Major—and he had gone on to reach the semis 14 times.

Yet in the early goings, on a cool and windy evening on Rod Laver, this had the air of Federer’s Millman match, with a mix of classic Swiss strikes and less-than-convincing moves. And as then, it was the forehand that went awry to offer up a break in the seventh game, helped by an uncharacteristic netted volley. With new balls at his disposal, Fucsovics was not about to give up that advantage, and dropped one more point on serve, 6-4.

Federer needed to find something different, as the cool conditions were giving him little penetration and flow. More power off his forehand earned his first break chance in the second game, and an error from the Hungarian sealed the advantage.

Federer was audibly working harder through his ball strikes, and he held for 3-0, but had to fight off another break chance in the fifth game, holding with a vocal forehand winner. He broke again, though, and served out the set convincingly, 6-1, with more net charges and 11 winners in the set.

And a break in the first game of the third seems to oil the Swiss game. The grunts disappeared as he chipped, dropped and patiently waited for errors from his increasingly befuddled opponent. He broke for 3-0, and despite his serving percentage slipping below 50 percent, Federer held for 4-0.

But just as he did against Millman, the Swiss produced an error-strewn game in the sixth, gave one break back, 4-2, only to regain the break in the next. He served it out, 6-2, though still faced break point along the way.

Once again, he opened Set 4 with a break, and broke again in the seventh, eventually serving out the victory, though hardly in straightforward fashion, 6-2. And in the process, Federer became the first man to reach 15 Australian Open quarter-finals.

He next plays an unexpected opponent in a quarter that could have brought Matteo Berrettini, Borna Coric, Sam Querrey, or Fabio Fognini: The 100-ranked Tennys Sandgren beat No12 seed Fognini, 7-6, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4.

The American with the big serve won only his first title this time last year in Auckland, and made his only Major quarter-final in Melbourne in 2018. There is clearly something about this swing that he likes, and he relishes the chance of playing Federer now:

“It will be incredibly special to be able to play him at least once in my career. To play him on a big stage like the quarter-finals of a Slam will be a ton of fun.”

World No2 and seven-time champion Novak Djokovic had been in cruise control in Melbourne since his valuable opening-round four-setter against the dangerous Jan-Lennard Struff.

He certainly wasn’t tested by two Japanese opponents, Yoshihito Nishioka or wild card Tatsuma Ito, losing just seven games in each win. But the challenge was much tougher, on paper, against his first seed, No14 Diego Schwartzman, who had not dropped a set so far.

Djokovic had won all three of his previous matches against Schwartzman, but their two most recent had gone to a deciding set. However, this proved to be an easier affair for the man with a 71-8 record in Melbourne, as he took a scant two hours to reach his 11th Australian quarter-final with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over the Argentine.

The first set was not an easy ride, but Djokovic broke in the eighth game to leave himself to serve it out. Schwartzman went down sooner in the second set by two breaks, 0-3, and although he managed to get one break back, the Serb had a grip on the set, having made twice as many winners as in the opening set.

Djokovic broke again in the fifth game of the third set and the Schwartzman resistance was over. The defending champion served it out to love, 6-4.

The world No2, in pursuit of the No1 ranking again in Melbourne should he win the title, will surely be confident going into his quarter-final, where he finds No32 seed Milos Raonic, a man he has beaten in all nine meetings, losing just one set.

The Canadian, who only earned his seeding when Alex de Minaur withdrew injured, has been very impressive for a man who has had only three wins to his name since Wimbledon last year—the result of yet more struggles with the injuries that have plagued his career.

Raonic beat the unseeded Marin Cilic, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5, and is still to drop a set, despite playing No6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in Round 3. The big man hit 35 aces against Cilic, now up to tally of 85 for the tournament, but as he said ruefully of his Djokovic test:

“I think I’m going to have to hit more than 35 aces.”

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