January 26, 2017
A disbelieving Roger Federer almost had to pinch himself after he survived a superb Stan Wawrinka fightback to book a place in his 28th Grand Slam final – and his sixth in Australia.
He will play either Rafael Nadal or Grigor Dimitrov. But the entire world, apart from fans of the enigmatic Bulgarian, seems to be hoping it will be Rafa – including Federer himself.
After defeating Wawrinka 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3, an elated Roger commented: ‘I’m Rafa’s number one fan, he’s an incredible competitor and both of us would never have thought we’d have the chance of playing here in the finals.
‘I was with him in Mallorca quite recently and we were both carrying injuries, I had my bad knee and he had his wrist, so some mini-tennis with some juniors was the best we could do.’
Now, instead of hobbling about like a pair of has-beens, Roger and Rafa both stand on the verge of Grand Slam glory once more. What a story!
And it doesn’t end there. Incredibly, the 36-year-old Venus Williams is also back in a Slam final again, where she will face her sister Serena.
Meanwhile Serena swatted away the challenge of the veteran Croat, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-2, 6-1 to leave herself on the verge of a record 23rd Grand Slam triumph in the Open era.
The last time all four huge names – Federer, Nadal, Venus and Serena – were all in the singles finals together at the same Grand Slam event was back at Wimbledon in 2008. Now it seems to be happening all over again, just when we least expected it. How great is this sport of tennis?
Indeed, 2017 already seems to be a truly vintage tennis year, and might even provide our last chance to savour so many greats, back to their very best form, in glorious unison. Wimbledon 2017 is already looking irresistible!
Of course, Dimitrov will go all out to spoil the party in Melbourne in the second semi-final. And Federer was equally complimentary about the younger man’s tournament. ‘It’s either going to be Grigor, who is so confident right now, or Rafa. So it’s going to be tough.
‘But it’s real now. I’m actually talking about the final – I’ve had to dodge that bullet a lot this week – but for the first time I can talk about it.
‘I’ll leave it all out here in Australia, and if I can’t walk for another five months, that’s OK.’
Even if he couldn’t, you can bet Federer will get himself ready for Wimbledon 2017, now that he knows he is still capable of producing this kind of form. On grass, the sky is the limit.
He took a long medical time-out before the final set against Wawrinka, and later hinted that he might be carrying a slight groin problem.
Federer explained: ‘I’ve had a leg thing going on for the week, I felt it from the second game of the match. I never take injury time-outs but Stan had already taken his, and so that wasn’t an issue. That physio has got some magic hands!’
When pressed on the precise location of the injury, Roger smiled: ‘If you go off the court, it means the treatment is further up the leg…but we’re still talking about the leg!’
Whatever the nature of the niggle, it seemed nothing compared to the problem Wawrinka experienced at the end of the second set. There was some speculation after the match that he had damaged a knee while breaking a racquet in frustration. But Stan seemed to hurt it stretching for a forehand on the run, with Roger 30-0 and 5-3 ahead.
Either way, Wawrinka left the court in tears after Federer closed out the set – and it seemed he might even have to forfeit the match at that point.
Instead Stan came back out with all guns blazing – and shocked Federer to the core. Roger admitted later: ‘He relaxed, with nothing to lose, maybe, and I couldn’t serve as well as I did. It’s hard to stop the bleeding, I guess.’
Stan the Man even had break points in the fifth set and looked on the verge of victory. But Federer refused to be denied and concluded: ‘I felt I had to stay in it somehow. He gave me a cheap break in the sixth game, I didn’t feel like I really deserved it.
‘Then there was disbelief. I had to check the match point and that it was all over…’
That joyous sense of disbelief is shared by the entire tennis world. How can we be so lucky as to have Roger, Rafa, Venus and Serena peaking simultaneously, in their thirties?
On this evidence, Wimbledon 2017 is not to be missed. It could be the greatest tournament of them all.
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