After last year’s Australian Open semifinal defeat to Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer’s career took an uncharted turn. Only days after falling to the eventual champion in Melbourne, the 17-time Grand Slam champion fell again, this time physically, tearing his meniscus in a freak accident while preparing a bath for his twin girls.
That January day threw his career into question, as the Swiss number two underwent the first surgery of his career. Many questioned whether the former world number one would be able to return, let alone return to the high level of tennis he was playing.
His 2016 was filled with ups and downs as the Swiss great battled injury all year long. He missed the French Open, the 2016 Olympics and the 2016 U.S. Open.
Yet, one year after that fall, Federer has picked himself back up, perhaps higher than anyone would have dreamed. Federer is back, and he is playing better than ever.
Against all odds, the 35-year-old is back in the Australian Open semifinals, just six sets away from his 18th Grand Slam title, which would be his first since Wimbledon in 2012, over four and a half years. Unlike last year, however, Federer will not face Djokovic, who was upset in the second round.
The Swiss Maestro will compete against his friend, Davis Cup teammate and 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka for the 22nd time with a chance to compete in the 2017 Australian Open Men’s Final on the line.
For Wawrinka, the Swiss number one is looking for the same success he had in 2014 when he captured his first Grand Slam title in Melbourne, defeating Rafael Nadal in the final. Since then, the Stanimal has gone on to win the French Open and the U.S. Open, upsetting Djokovic in both matches.
On Thursday night, two old friends will compete for the shot at the men’s title. Both players know each other extremely well, and each Swiss star won his respective quarterfinal match in straight sets.
Up to this point, it has been Federer who’s had the upper hand, having won 18 of the past 21 matches. The 17 seed will look to continue his magical run at major number 18, while Wawrinka, the fourth seed, will look for a shot at his second Australian Open crown.
“It's always been different in my career when I played against Roger,” Wawrinka said. “When I step on the court, it's always something special because he's the best player, because of everything he's done in his career, because the way he's playing, because he's Swiss, because he's a really close friend, because of everything we've been (through) together.”
“Most important is that I try as much as I can to focus on myself,” Wawrinka said, “that I step on the court to try to win, to try to find a way how to win the match.”
For Federer, simply being able to be back on the courts is a thrill.
“I think winning back-to-back matches in best-of-five sets against quality, great players,” Federer said. “That's been for me the big question mark, if I could do that so early in my comeback.”
“I felt I was always going to be dangerous on any given day in a match situation,” Federer continued. “But obviously as the tournament would progress, maybe I would fade away with energy, you know, that kind of stuff. I think now that I'm in the semis, feeling as good as I am, playing as good as I am, that's a huge surprise to me.”
The action begins at 7:30 p.m. local time in Melbourne in Rod Laver Arena.
Federer blows past Mischa Zverev
After his thrilling five-set win over Kei Nishikori, Federer was slated to face world number one Andy Murray. However, Mischa Zverev, who entered the tournament as the world number 50 had other plans, stunning the world number one. Coming off his epic upset, Zverev clearly suffered a letdown against the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
Federer took the opening set 6-1 in only 19 minutes, setting the tone of the match. The German made the match more competitive in the second set, but it was too late.
Federer took the second and third sets with late breaks, sealing the victory. After playing Nishikori for almost three and a half hours, the one-and-a-half-hour victory was much needed for the 35-year-old.
Wawrinka outclasses Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Entering the quarterfinal clash between the Swiss and the Frenchman, opinions differed on who had the upper hand. Tsonga had been playing well, and Wawrinka got off to a slow start in the tournament. However, the Swiss number one had been playing much better entering the quarterfinal contest.
The first set was competitive, yet the fourth seed found the upper hand. He never let go of that, gliding to a straight-set victory over the 13th seed.
The Swiss number one was impressive, smacking the ball all over the court, reminiscent of his play when he won his three Grand Slam titles.
It will be fascinating to see how the 31-year-old fares against his mentor and countryman on Thursday night.
As expected, the stakes and pressure of this match will reach a high level. A shot at the final without a Djokovic or Murray on the other side has to be incredibly appealing to the four players left in the main draw.
As mentioned, Federer has completely dominated Wawrinka in the past. The Swiss Maestro owns an 18-3 head-to-head record. More importantly, he has a 13-0 record on hard courts.
The key to this match will be Wawrinka’s belief in his game against Federer’s serve and backhand. In the past, the Swiss number one’s hard groundstrokes have bothered the Swiss number two. In addition, when Wawrinka wins, he exploits Federer’s backhand.
The bad news for the fourth seed is that Federer’s backhand has been on-fire throughout the tournament. In addition, the Swiss Maestro's serve has been reliable. He has been attacking his second-serve returns more and more, and this could spell trouble for Wawrinka.
This is a match both players could win, but in the end, Federer’s level of play has been very strong and consistent in the past few rounds. He will have the upper-hand in this match. However, with that, Federer can also lose this one. As he knows so well, never underestimate Wawrinka. Just ask Novak Djokovic.
Prediction: Federer in four sets