There were four former champions pitted against opponents trying to become the first player born in the 1990s to win a major, after the Quarter-finals it is now certain that a former champion will contest the final on Sunday pitted against someone trying to win their maiden grand slam title. Seven time champion Novak Djokovic takes on six time champion Roger Federer on Thursday, while Alexander Zverev plays Dominic Thiem in the semi-final on Friday.
There was drama in the first quarterfinal on Tuesday afternoon at the Rod Laver Arena as the third seeded Swiss superstar performed the Houdini Act in saving seven match points, just days after reeling of six points in a row from the brink of defeat against the local favorite John Millman. Playing against the 100th ranked American Tennys Sandgren, Federer got off to the perfect start as he took the first set 6-3.
The 28 year old Sandgren from Gallatin, Tennessee who had upset Matteo Berrettini and Fabio Fognini to reach the last stage for the second time , having reached the last eight in 2018, took control of the match as the 38 year old Federer fell apart in the next two sets. Federer took a medical time out in the third set, trailing 0-3 just after receiving a code violation for audible obscenity.
Games went with serve in the fourth set but Federer first saved two match points at 15-40 in the tenth game, and one more in that game before holding serve for 5-5. In the ensuing tie-break Sandgren took a 6-3 lead, only for Federer to level at 6-6 saving three more match points, Sandgren blew another match point before Federer took the fourth set tie-break 10-8. A visibly dejected Sandgren lost serve in the sixth game before Federer served out the three hour thirty seven minute long match 6-3,2-6,2-6,7-6(8),6-3 and entered his 15th semi-final in Melbourne.
In contrast, defending champion Novak Djokovic looks to be the heavy favorite to extend his record seven titles at the first grand slam of the year after he continued his mastery over the 32nd seeded Milos Raonic of Canada. A match overshadowed by the demise of the basketball legend Kobe Bryant who died in a helicopter crash in California, Djokovic wore a special jacket on court with the LA Lakers star’s initials and jersy numbers.
Djokovic who described Bryant as his Mentor, never looked like losing at any point in his 6-4,6-3,7-6(1) win over the big serving Raonic who had reached the last four in Melbourne four years ago losing to Andy Murray in five sets. Djokovic is now a perfect 10-0 against Raonic and goes into the semi-final against Federer with a head to head record of 26-23 in what will be the pair’s 50th meeting. Djokovic has beaten Federer in three semi-finals at the Australian Open in 2008,2011 and 2016, when Djokovic went on to win the title.
In the first match on Wednesday, the 2014 champion Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland got off to the perfect start as he raced to a 5-0 lead and took the first set 6-1 against the seventh seeded Zverev who was bidding to reach the last four of a grand slam for the first time in his career. Just when it looked like Wawrinka would run away with the match, the 22 year old German finally broke serve in the eighth game of the second set having blown one in the second game on Wawrinka’s serve.
The pair traded service breaks to start the third set, but three time Master’s titlist and the 2018 World Tour Final champion broke serve again in the fifth game to take control of the match. He saved break point in the sixth and then squandered two set points on Wawrinka’s serve in the ninth game before serving out the set in the tenth game at 30 to take a 2-1 lead in sets. Zverev broke serve twice early in the fourth set and despite saving three break points in the fifth game the sixteenth seeded Swiss had no answers to the German’s serve who never faced break point in the fourth set. Zverev won 1-6,6-3,6-4,6-2 in two hours twenty two minutes.
The best match of the last eight stage was left for the last as the 2009 champion Rafael Nadal took on the fifth seeded Austrian Dominic Thiem in the evening session on Wednesday. Thiem fell behind a break of serve in both the first two sets but broke the top seeded Spaniard to force a tie-break in both the sets before saving set point in the ninth game of the first set and blowing one in the twelveth game of the second set. He lifted his game in both the tie-breaks to take a 2 sets lead. Nadal as usual rose to the occasion as he broke the Austrian’s serve in the tenth game to clinch the third set.
Thiem would save three break points in the second game before breaking Nadal’s serve in the third game. He then held serve comfortably and stepped in to serve for the match in the tenth game. After taking the first point, he made two unforced errors and also double faulted once to lose the game tamely. Both players then held serve to force yet another tie-break. Thiem then had two match points at 6-4 in the tie-break but netted a routine forehand into the net. Aided by a net cord on a backhand pass he served again for the match at 8-7 and duly won on his third match point at 7-6(3),7-6(4),4-6,7-6(6) in four hours and fourteen minutes.
In the ladies section of the draw, the Russian born Sofia Kenin is the only player looking for a maiden triumph in grand slams as she joins the Australian Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep of Romania and the Spaniard Garbine Muguruza. The fifteenth ranked 21 year old Kenin was too strong for Tunisian Ons Jabuer as she won 6-4,6-4 in a battle of two players bidding for a first ever semi-final in a grand slam.
She now plays the local favorite Ashleigh Barty who took control of her match against the two time former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 7-6(6),6-2 on Tuesday. In the first match on Wednesday, the third seeded Simona Halep was all over the Estonian Annette Kontaveit as he finished a 6-1,6-1 blowout in only 54 minutes. In the last of the Quarter-finals, the 26 year old Garbine Muguruza of Spain went ahead with third break of serve in the first set against the Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The pair had exchanged two breaks of serve in the first set before the 2017 Wimbledon champion Muguruza lost serve in the twelveth game to take the opening set 7-5. She then broke the Russian twice in the second set to complete a 7-5,6-3 win in one hour and thirty five minutes.
The following are the semi-final line ups with my pick mentioned first :-
Men’s singles :
Novak Djokovic (1) v. Roger Federer (3); Djokovic leads 26-23.
Dominic Thiem (5) v. Alexander Zverev (7): Thiem leads 6-2.
Women’s singles :
Ashleigh Barty (1) v. Sofia Kenin (15) ; Barty leads 4-1
Simona Halep (3) v. Garbine Muguruza (32) ; tied 2-2.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]