Even for 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer this year’s Australian Open must have felt like a step into the unknown.
He hadn’t played a competitive match for six months, had dropped out of the world’s top 10 for the first time since 2002 and his draw was just about as tough as they come.
Just over a week later he is the favourite to win and unprecedented 18th major, after reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open for the 11th time in his distinguished career. Who were we to ever doubt him?
Comfortable victory for Federer
Federer brushed aside Andy’s Murray’s conqueror, the unorthodox German Mischa Zverev, winning 6-1 7-5 6-2 in an hour and 32 minutes.
At 35, the Swiss becomes the oldest man to reach the last four in Melbourne since Arthur Ashe in 1978.
The Swiss will meet his compatriot Stan Wawrinka in the semis, after the 4th seed defeated Jo-Wilfred Tsonga 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 6-3 in the other quarter-final.
After his performances, so far, Federer will go into that match full of confidence following a returning masterclass against Zverev, the left-handed serve-volleyer.
Federer consistently bunted the ball back at the German’s feet, as Zverev was unable to impose his unconventional game like he did against Murray.
Once again Federer moved exquisitely from back of the court and there were no signs of the knee injury which kept him out in the second half of last year.
He forayed forward to the net at every opportunity as his all-court game functioned immaculately throughout.
Zverev looks nervous after win over Murray
The Zverev who started the match was a mere shadow of the man who outthought and outplayed Murray in the previous round.
Surprisingly the German elected to receive serve after winning the coin toss and straight away he found himself on the back foot.
Like against Murray, Zverev ventured to the net at every opportunity but his volleys were brittle and tentative, allowing Federer to take full advantage.
The Swiss repeatedly had time to had skip around his backhand and nail a winner past his stranded opponent.
In just 15 minutes Federer had raced into a 5-0, four minutes later he had taken the opening set, finishing with a leaping backhand volley.
Thankfully for the 15,000 spectators inside the Rod Laver Arena, Zverev held serve in the opening game of the second set as he began to make a match of it.
More of a match in the second set
By that stage the German had shaken off his early nerves and his net game became more instinctive and zestful as a result.
Against Murray, Zverev’s punchy returns, which rely on his short backswing, repeatedly unsettled the Brit.
Federer faced similar problems in the fifth game as the Swiss dropped his serve for the first time, falling 3-2 behind.
However, Zverev couldn’t maintain his advantage as Federer broke back immediately, perturbing the German with a couple of dipping returns.
At 5-4 (30-30) with Federer serving, Zverev found himself just two points away from levelling the match at a set apiece.
Yet, the 17-time Grand Slam champion quickly diffused the situation, before breaking Zverev two games later, clinching the set with a crisp backhand passing shot.
Zverev hung on, saving break points in the opening game of the third set, before Federer’s pressure finally told.
The Swiss broke serve again at 2-2 with another backhand pass and quickly stepped on the accelerator with the finish line in sight.
He went on to win the next four games to complete a comprehensive victory.