January 26, 2018
Roger Federer will face Marin Cilic, the man he reduced to tears in the Wimbledon final, to decide who takes the Australian Open title for 2018.
It will make for an intriguing showdown, after Hyeon Chung was forced to retire while being soundly beaten by Federer in their semi.
The South Korean’s problem, apparently, was severe blistering to his left foot. It leaves the 36-year-old Federer fresh for his attempt to take a record 20th Grand Slam singles title.
And yet he had mixed feelings about the way he went through, despite dishing out a 6-1 trouncing of his opponent in a lightning first set, and then establishing a 5-2 lead in the second.
Reeling from the run-around he had been given, Chung had taken a time-out at 1-4 down in that second set. But there was little or nothing that could be done to repair the damage or ease the pain.
Roger said: ‘In the second set I could see he was starting to get slower, fighting with the blister. It’s bitter-sweet. I’m incredibly happy to be in the final, but not like this.
‘I could tell something was wrong before he took the timeout. But he has a great composure and I think we’re going to see a lot more of him.
‘Top ten for sure. The rest I don’t know, I don’t want to put too much pressure on him. But I think he’s going to be a great player.’
Interesting that Federer should have praised Hyeon’s composure, because he attacked it from the start and never let the younger man settle.
Roger won the toss under the Melbourne roof and elected to receive – precisely because he wanted to damage his opponent’s confidence from the very first exchanges. He executed his plan perfectly, breaking Chung in the very first game.
As we all know, Federer takes almost no time at all to fly through his service games – and he had consolidated before Chung had a chance to counter-attack.
The match became a procession of ruthless Federer winners from both sides of the court, and nervous Chung errors when he so badly needed to bring his best game.
The Asian had been so clinical and so aggressive in Melbourne – until he came up against Federer. This time, put simply, he was beaten to the punch and never recovered.
No doubt his foot problems played their part in his downfall. But it is difficult to see how even a fit Hyeon could have won, once Federer had seized all the early momentum.
So now Cilic has been warned. The big man from Croatia has to hit hard and hit first, otherwise he could be swept away once more. ‘Roger plays so aggressive and I know I have to be aggressive too,’ he explained.
What a battle awaits us, between two men who know how to unleash the inner animal when they really need to slug it out.
Federer hasn’t forgotten being swept aside in straight sets by Cilic in their US Open semi-final of 2014.
He said: ‘We saw it against Rafa, we saw it again against Edmund. He brings power, he brings everything. He crushed me in the US Open semi-finals. I’m excited to play him. We actually played together on vacation in the Maldives – we both needed a hitting partner!’
At Wimbledon last English summer, Cilic cried openly when his own blisters made him realise he simply couldn’t achieve the level required to beat a player as good as Roger. He fought on to the bitter end, whereas Chung chose an easier route.
Meanwhile Federer was almost envious of the feeling either Simona Halep or Caroline Wozniacki will get at the end of the women’s final.
He explained: ‘I would love to be in that position again, to win your first major for the first time. It’s one of the cool moments of your career. I remember how it was winning my first major at Wimbledon and it rocked my world.’
Somehow you sense that Halep and Wozniacki would rather have nineteen Grand Slam titles under their belts rather than still be searching for their first. We may soon have to say twenty.