Semi-final Preview: Djokovic Plays Federer For 50th Time In Thursday Blockbuster
Serbian star leads Federer 10-6 at Grand Slams
The second-longest rivalry in the Open Era hits match No. 50 on Thursday as seven-time champion Novak Djokovic meets six-time former titlist Roger Federer on Rod Laver Arena in a blockbuster of an Australian Open semi-final.
Djokovic has the upper-hand, leading 26-23 in their legendary ATP Head2Head rivalry, including three semi-final wins at Melbourne Park in 2008, 2011 and 2016. But Federer, who competes in the last four at the season’s first major for the 15th time, won the pair’s last meeting, a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Djokovic, in the round robin stage of the Nitto ATP Finals in November to break a five-match losing streak in their series.
Djokovic, who leads Federer 19-18 in their hard-court matches, said after his quarter-final victory over Milos Raonic on Tuesday night, “Whenever we get a chance to play each other, we understand it takes a big effort, and it's required from us to come up with the best game in order to win against each other.”
The World No. 2 will start Thursday’s night session knowing that he has not lost to Federer in a best-of-five sets clash since the 2012 Wimbledon semi-finals, and has an 10-6 advantage at major championships, including a five-match winning streak (all five have been four sets or more). Djokovic memorably saved two championship points against Federer in last year’s Wimbledon final.
“Wimbledon last year, he had two match points, he was one shot away from winning that match,” said 32-year-old Djokovic. “It's not like I've been dominating the match-ups. I've had success against him, as you said, in Grand Slams in particular. But Roger is Roger. You know that he's always going to play on such a high level, regardless of the surface. He loves to play these kind of matches, big rivalries, semis, finals of Grand Slams.”
Federer, who admitted before the tournament that it would take him a few matches to hit his best form, has lived on a knife edge in two of his five victories at this year’s Australian Open. He first came back from 4/8 down in the fifth-set tie-break against Australia’s John Millman in the third round, that marked his 100th match win at the major, and again in Tuesday’s quarter-finals when he saved seven match points in the fourth set of a five-set win against American Tennys Sandgren.
With 12 hours and 44 minutes of court time, the 38-year-old Swiss superstar is not overly concerned about a groin strain that hindered him in his win over Sandgren. “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. It really depends sometimes how you're feeling inside, how much it takes away from you. But I must say I feel pretty good right now.”
At 38 years and 178 days, Federer is the oldest man to reach the semi-finals at a Grand Slam championship since American Jimmy Connors (39 years and 6 days) at the 1991 US Open. With a 102-14 record in Melbourne, the Swiss, like Djokovic, feels at home.
"I think conditions suit us well here," said Federer. "[We have] started the year strong. [It has] probably something to do with court speed, feeling comfortable down here. Novak also has gone on all these runs like I did for 10 years. He did the same for the past 10 years. It helps when you start the year off with a bang. We were able to do that quite a few times."
Djokovic, by contrast, has dropped just one set in his five matches (10 hours and 21 minutes total court time), losing the third set of his first-round victory over Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff — which marked his 900th tour-level match win — and is now hoping to extend his perfect 11-0 record at the start of 2020.
“I've been feeling well on the court,” said the Serbian star, who has a 73-8 record in Melbourne. “I've been building I think as the time passes by, in every match, I have more confidence, I feel better. At the end of the day, this is my favourite court [Rod Laver Arena]. It’s the court where I had the most success in my career. Hopefully things can come together for me in a positive way on Thursday and I can have a chance to win.”
The encounter will also now have an added edge. Should Djokovic beat Federer and go on to lift his eighth Australian Open crown in Sunday's final, he will return to No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on 3 February. The possibility arose after World No. 1 and 2009 champion Rafael Nadal lost to Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals on Wednesday night.