Roger Federer survived an almighty scare in round 3 of the 2020 Australian Open and here we review how he got himself into such a precarious position.
Roger Federer beat John Millman in the third round of the 2020 Australian Open, but only after a four-hour, five-set epic in which it looked like he was poised to crash out.
On a day when Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka fell in the women’s draw, the Australian Millman had the match on his racquet before a slew of mistakes allowed the Swiss to complete a memorable comeback.
A 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 4-6 7-6 (10-8) victory for Federer meant it was a special 100th win in the Australian Open for the Swiss star but there are key areas for improvement needed if he hopes to win a 7th Australian Open.
In this match, as you might expect, the service and return numbers were incredibly close when it came to the overall statistics.
Federer won 68% of all his service points while Millman won 65% of his. Federer won a quite healthy 77% of all first-serve points but a very ordinary 51% of his second serve points.
However, when you see on a set-by-set basis, you could see a clear pattern. In sets 1 and 4, the two he lost, Federer won just 30% and 36% of his second-serve points respectively.
In sets 2 and 3, that number shot up to 73% and 64% respectively. To understand how Federer was able to protect his second serve so well, we need to first see where he was facing the problem and how he was able to solve it.
As it is well known, Federer came into the Australian Open with no official matches under his belt since the ATP Finals.
While he insisted it meant he came in fresh, there were always doubts as to whether he would be able to hit the ground running or not.
Federer was superb in the first two rounds but with all due respect to Steve Johnson and Filip Krajinovic, they are not nearly as consistent off the baseline as Millman is and nor do they cover as much ground as the Australian, a winner in the fourth round of the 2018 US Open against the 20-time major winner.
And as it was wont to do sooner or later in this tournament, Federer’s lack of quality matches in the past few months showed. He was lethargic from the start, and Millman came out firing.
Roger Federer: Forehand still looks ordinary
The once-fabled Federer forehand has been ordinary of late, and once again it was the shot which was leaking all the errors. Millman kept going after the Federer forehand with pace and the mistakes kept coming.
Out of the 82 unforced errors that Federer committed in the match, 49 of them came from the forehand wing (h/t Eurosport). That is more than Millman’s entire tally of unforced errors.
Federer was getting outlasted on both wings and he had not found a comfortable operating window for his groundstrokes.
But he has been on tour for more than 20 years and he has faced days like this when he is not feeling the rhythm. His usual go-to-answer for this is giving his opponent something different to look at, with more net rushing, volleying and bringing out his array of strokes.
In sets 2 and 3, Federer made a combined 30 visits to the net, winning 22 points. This is in sharp contrast to his combined 15 visits to the net, winning 10 points in losing sets 1 and 4.
Federer understood the pattern and in set 5, he made 19 net forays, winning 14 points.
Millman was still chipping away at the Federer groundstrokes but while the forehand was still leaking errors, the six-time Australian Open champion had found a way to neutralize the problem to some extent.
In the match tie-break, Millman led 8-4 at one stage but Federer then refused to miss his forehand and Millman over-pressed at a crucial juncture and the tide turned.
There is no doubt that the high unforced errors count in this match is also a factor of the slow courts that this year’s Australian Open has provided.
As both Federer and Rafael Nadal have said in their press conferences and interviews, the courts are very slow and quite dead and have not quite assisted spin as one would like.
But Federer will be mighty pleased to have survived that scare. He had not won a 5th set decider since the 2018 Australian Open, the last Grand Slam he won, having been beaten in his last three against Kevin Anderson, Novak Djokovic in a brutal Wimbledon final defeat and Grigor Dimitrov.
Escaping with a win from this performance against this opponent is a huge confidence boost for the 38-year-old, who understandably looked out of breath during the post-match interview.
Harder tests await Roger Federer
However, the second week only promises to get harder as high flying Marton Fucsovics lies in wait for the Swiss. Federer will have to be a lot more solid with his groundstrokes when he faces Fucsovics in Round 4.
If Federer wins that, a quarterfinal appearance against Tennys Sandgren or Fabio Fognini is on the cards before a blockbuster semifinal clash against the defending champion Djokovic.
As Roger Federer walked through the tunnel after his match, around him were the names of all the former Australian Open champions.
He touched Ken Rosewall’s name as he walked through, no doubt drawing on the old legend for inspiration safe in the knowledge even harder tests are on the horizon.