‘Today was horrible’: Federer hurting
Roger Federer has revealed he was close to pulling the pin on his semi-final blockbuster against Novak Djokovic, playing through pain to keep his freakish, indestructible record alive.
Having been on the ATP Tour for more than 20 years, Federer carries a near unprecedented record of never retiring from a match.
Thursday night's 7-6 6-4 6-3 shellacking at the hands of Novak Djokovic was the closest he has come for some time to the end of the streak. He has also given opponents walk-overs (where he fails to play a point) just four times in his career.
After coming out all guns blazing with winners flying off his racquet on his way to a 4-1 lead and three break points at 0-40, Federer was simply crushed when he realised that even with his game red-lined he was no match for the man who has now won their last six straight meetings at grand slams.
Djokovic said simply he had "huge respect" for Federer's indestructible record of seeing matches through to their completion - but, in truth, the Serbian superstar was a class above his 20-time grand slam rival.
"You know, I just want to say respect to Roger for coming out tonight," he said earlier in his on-court interview.
"He was obviously hurt and wasn't at his best, even close to his best in terms of movement.
"Respect for coming out and trying his best all the way through."
Federer's rollercoaster run through to the final four at Melbourne Park made him cannon-fodder for a red-hot Djokovic, who dug deep during Federer's early onslaught before running away with a comfortable win after two hours and 18 minutes.
Federer was coming off two five-set marathon wins over John Millman and Tennys Sandgren. He also appeared to suffer tightness in his legs during the match against Sandgren, calling for a medical time out in both of his final two matches at the Open.
He said after getting a scan on Tuesday night he was cleared to play, but was far from certain.
After taking Wednesday off and skipping training, Federer said it was only on Thursday after a brief pre-match hit-out that he dismissed the thoughts of giving Djokovic a walk over passage to the final.
He said it hurt him to play wounded - especially after it soon sunk in that he was almost no chance of winning.
He said from his best estimate he had just a three per cent chance of causing an upset - and that was enough to make him put his body on the line all over again.
"Today was horrible, to go through what I did," he said.
"Nice entrance, nice send-off, and in between is one to forget because you know you have a 3 per cent chance to win. You know, got to go for it. You never know. But once you can see it coming, that it's not going to work anymore, it's tough.
"I've been there before. I've had a few matches throughout my career where I've felt that way. It also happened the same way. Better that than zero, I tell you that."
Federer also revealed he is confident he will return to play at the Australian Open in 2020.
Djokovic now moves through to a record eight Australian Open final - he has a freakish 8-0 record in Australian Open semi-finals and an even spookier 7-0 record in the final of the year's first slam.
He will play either fifth seed Dominic Thiem or seventh-ranked German Alexander Zverev in Sunday's final, but it will take a monumental effort to prize another title from the 32-year-old.
If any extra motivation was needed, winning on Sunday will see the Serb reclaim the number one ranking after Rafael Nadal was sent packing in the last eight.
It was the fourth time Djokovic had beaten Federer at the semi-final stage in Melbourne after doing the same in 2008, 2011 and 2016.
Djokovic was clear favourite after beating the third seed in every Grand Slam meeting since Wimbledon 2012, but in their 50th career clash it was Federer who initially set Rod Laver Arena alight.
The opening game, on Federer's serve, lasted six minutes in an indication of what might be in store.
Then against the odds the 38-year-old, the oldest man in a Grand Slam semi since Jimmy Connors in 1991, broke Djokovic on his first service game with an unbelievable backhand passing shot.
The edge didn't last long with the Serb immediately hitting back to even it up. But the power and finesse of the Federer game was troubling Djokovic, who was on the back foot and was broken once more to go 4-1 behind.
Federer had three break points to make it 5-1, but Djokovic dug deep to fend them off as he clawed back, breaking once more as the Swiss was serving for the set.
It went to a tiebreaker which the second seed dominated to pull off a remarkable turnaround in a set that Federer threw away.
Federer took a medical time at the end of it, apparently for a back issue, and he wasn't moving as freely in the second set.
But he clung on until he fluffed an easy shot at the net to hand Djokovic set point at 4-5 and the Serb cracked a top-quality crosscourt volley to go two sets to one in front.
Djokovic was pumped and Federer rapidly running out of steam. When the Swiss star was broken to go 4-2 behind in the third, there was no way back as his rival extended his winning record over him to 27-23.
- with AFP