Roger Federer goes into his Australian Open semifinal against Novak Djokovic as a huge underdog, which is not a role he is used to playing in Grand Slams.
It looked like the most likely scenario when the Australian Open draw was made and now Roger Federer will indeed take on Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
But Federer has had a much more laborious path to the last four than Djokovic, who as a result goes into Thursday’s matchup as an overwhelming favorite among fans and the betting markets.
The Serbian secured his place in the semis with a straight sets victory over Milos Raonic.
Djokovic won 6-4 6-3 7-6 (7-1) against the Canadian on Tuesday and has not dropped a set since his opening round contest against Jan-Lennard Struff.
The 32-year-old says he feels better with every match, that his serving has been “terrific” during the Australian summer and he has been highly confident on court since the start of the ATP Cup (h/t ATP Tour).
Federer, meanwhile, has had quite the battle to reach the latter stages since starting with two routine wins.
Matches in rounds three, four and the quarterfinals against John Millman, Marton Fucsovics and Tennys Sandgren, all unseeded players, look like a dream on paper.
But the 38-year-old, playing his first event since the ATP Finals last year, has had to scratch and claw his way through, exerting all his physical and mental effort to do so.
After escaping a demanding five-setter with Millman, he recovered from a set down to beat surprise package Fucsovics.
Then came his clash with American Sandgren, where had to save an astonishing seven match points in the fourth set before ultimately claiming a 6-3 2-6 2-6 7-6 (10-8) 6-3 victory.
He insisted the epic against Sandgren had not tired him as much as the clash with Millman did, but such contests must be taking their toll, as well as indicating he is short of peak form.
At majors, Federer has not beaten Djokovic in seven and a half years, his last win at a Grand Slam coming in the 2012 Wimbledon semis.
His opponent, when fit, is far and away the best on the ATP Tour on a hard surface, as proven by his sensational streak of victories over Rafael Nadal, who remains in the competition ahead of a quarterfinal meeting with Dominic Thiem.
Federer did win his last battle with Djokovic at the ATP Finals, but their comparative form and levels of fatigue at this tournament paints a different picture in the build-up to this meeting.
Djokovic arrived in Melbourne with some significant momentum behind him after Serbia’s ATP Cup triumph, and that, along with the recent trend at the Slams, leaves the Swiss star in the unusual position of being such a huge second favorite.
Still, Djokovic would have preferred to be coming up against Sandgren than a 20-time major winner who often reserves his best for the biggest occasion, and proved twice in London last year, at the ATP Finals and in the duo’s epic Wimbledon final, that he can still compete with the very best.
Djokovic and Federer have won a combined 13 Australian Open titles, claiming 12 of the last 14 trophies between them at Melbourne Park and each of the last five.
A meeting between these two stars in the latter stages of a Grand Slam is another occasion for fans to relish.
Victory is not impossible for Roger Federer, but he will need all of his old magic and a dose of luck to pull off what would go down as an upset against the in-form Novak Djokovic.
Prediction: Novak Djokovic to beat Roger Federer in four sets.