Federer into Brisbane semis with rising stars Dimitrov, Raonic, Nishikori

Roger Federer thrashes James Duckworth to reach the semi-finals of the Brisbane international

For the second day in a row, the top seed in Brisbane, Roger Federer, faced an Australian wild card, but his quarter-final could not have unfolded more differently.

Against John Millman, Federer found himself a set and 3-1 down before turning the match in his favour after more than two hours of play. To dispatch the hapless 22-year-old James Duckworth, it took Federer 40 minutes—and five of those were taken up by a comfort break for the Australian between a 6-0 first and a 6-1 second set.

Even allowing for Duckworth’s ranking, a career-high 125, this proved to be a dominant shot-fest from Federer against a man who is undoubtedly on the rise. The feisty Aussie won two Challengers last year, took Richard Gasquet to five sets at Wimbledon and, in this tournament, he had already scored his first top-50 win over Gilles Simon and come back from two match points against Jarkko Nieminen.

Duckworth started well enough, reaching 40-30 on serve, but that was to be as good as it got in the set. Federer hit his stride almost immediately with first a backhand winner then a forehand winner to break.

By the fourth game, with the comfort of two breaks, Federer’s game slipped into its well-oiled flow and variety: drop shot, lob, ace, and it was 4-0 in exactly 60 seconds.

With 16 minutes on the clock, the set was done and dusted, 6-0: Duckworth had won just six points out of 31.

Perhaps sensibly, the Australian took a break while Federer prowled the back of the court. And there was a glimmer of hope for Duckworth after being broken in the first game: He took Federer to deuce, only to see that snuffed out by two aces—a Federer tally that would reach 12 by the match’s conclusion.

The Pat Rafter Arena roared its encouragement as Duckworth took his first game, 1-2, but he would win just two more points in the match. Federer hit winner after winner, and there would 24 of them to none by Duckworth by the time the clock stopped at 40 minutes. Federer had notched up only eight errors and made 10 out of 10 points at the net Could it have gone any better? Probably not.

The world No2 was asked if he had a dinner engagement to rush to: “No, got nowhere to go, just happy to stay in Brisbane another day!”

He explained that opening matches can be difficult, but that his Millman three-setter had helped him adjust: “I think I’ve gotten used to centre court. Had a great start to [this] match, that calmed the nerves down a bit. Today, I was serving well, returning well, really playing aggressive: hope I can keep it up tomorrow.”

There is no doubt that the semi-final brings an altogether different challenge in the shape of one of the players who has been tipped for the top since he first burst onto the scene to win the Wimbledon junior title in 2008, Grigor Dimitrov. That he is 10 years younger than Federer and won that title 10 years after Federer did the same has only added to comparisons between the attractive, charismatic tennis each man brings to court.

Even Federer, who has practised with Dimitrov numerous times and played exhibition matches against him, conceded the similarities: “He’s a really fun guy to watch—and play as well: A great shot maker and athlete and the future of men’s tennis with some other guys.

“I think it’s going to be a really interesting match. He plays, as you say, a bit like me: one-handed backhand, aggressive off the baseline with a nice serve. Clearly I’ve got to play well.”

They have met on the main tour only twice before, in the quarters of the last two Basel draws, with Federer winning on both occasions. But Dimitrov has form in Australia, reaching his first Open quarter-final last year where he lost a tight match to Rafael Nadal. He went on to break the top 10 after a storming grass run, winning Queen’s and beating Andy Murray to reach the semis of Wimbledon.

So the stage is set for something special. Federer could achieve a big milestone in Brisbane if he wins the title: His 1,000th match-win. But to do so, he will have to beat not just one star from the new generation but a second, either 23-year-old Milos Raonic or 25-year-old Kei Nishikori, ranked No8 and No5 respectively. Both men beat Federer last season.

Raonic came through a tough three-setter, 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-6(2) against Sam Groth. Nishikori, the US Open finalist last year, was very impressive in beating Bernard Tomic, 6-0, 6-4, in under an hour.

2015 is already being touted as the season when one of tennis’s rising stars could break the glass ceiling into the top three. And Federer now finds himself in the front line of that battle of the ages.

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