January 22, 2017
Roger Federer jumped for joy after reaching his 49th Grand Slam quarter-final with yet another scintillating display.
And that spontaneous demonstration of child-like delight told an important story. For it is Federer’s boyish enthusiasm for the game that has driven him to fresh heights, just when we thought he was almost ready to call it a day.
Now the great John McEnroe believes Federer can win his 18th Grand Slam title, if his body holds up for the second week of this amazing action in Melbourne.
McEnroe said: ‘I didn’t think he could before but I think he can now – this is the best I’ve seen him in years. He loves everything about tennis.’
Federer, 36 later this year, beat Kei Nishikori, still just 27, in a gruelling contest lasting three hours and twenty-four minutes. Towards the end it was the Japanese hero who needed treatment, not the Swiss veteran, who rarely seemed to feel the pace during his superb 6-7, 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 victory.
If anything, Roger was caught cold at the start and it looked as though Nishikori would wipe him off the court. He weathered the storm and explained later: ‘It was about staying calm. I was down 4-0 and almost going down 6-0. I thought: “It’s not going to get any worse from here.”‘
Federer fought all the way back into contention, only to lose the first set on a breaker. ‘It was tough when he held on to win that set after all the effort I put in,’ he admitted.
But Federer’s response was to produce two of the best sets of his life to take the lead. And he was dominant in the fourth too, only to squander three break points in the ten-minute fourth game of that set, and see it slip away as Kei drew level.
Most people would have picked Nishikori to go on to win the match at that point, as the younger man with the momentum. But Federer raised his incredible level once more to leave the result in no doubt.
Roger admitted: ‘He’s got a great five-set record and he’s a tough customer, so this is a huge win for me in my career.’
Next up for Federer will be Mischa Zverev, who produced one of the great shocks in tennis history by defeating Andy Murray earlier.
Roger said: ‘I like Mischa, he’s got a totally different game coming forward, and it’s nice for him to win through. It’s a tough one for Andy but he’ll be back.’
If Federer can outsmart Zverev – and there is no reason why he shouldn’t – then he will be through to the semi-finals, with no Djokovic or Murray to worry about.
No wonder McEnroe is daring to dream on his behalf. And we have to remind ourselves that Federer hadn’t even played a tournament for the last six months. Even he had warned that the Australian Open had come too soon for him, and his chances at Wimbledon or the US Open might be more realistic.
Now most people would say Federer will never have a better chance to add to his massive Grand Slam collection. And if he can win in Australia, why not at Wimbledon?
Imagine the Centre Court in West London if Federer reached the final at the home of tennis one last time. You’d just have to be there, wouldn’t you?
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