Federer, Djokovic Set To Resume Storied Rivalry
Pair to meet for 45th time in Australian Open semi-finals
“There's a lot of tension. There's a lot at stake. I'm expecting a great fight in two days,” said Novak Djokovic as he looked ahead to his blockbuster Australian Open semi-final with Roger Federer, set for Thursday night on Rod Laver Arena.
Indeed, Djokovic and Federer will share the court for the 45th time, with their FedEx ATP Head2Head finely balanced at 22-22. Their past three Grand Slam meetings all came in finals and all were won by Djokovic (2015 Wimbledon & US Open, 2014 Wimbledon). The last time they played a semi-final was four years ago at Wimbledon. Federer won.
It has been an uphill struggle for Federer against Djokovic in recent years as the Serb’s dominance on the ATP World Tour has grown. Since that Wimbledon victory, Federer has beaten Djokovic seven times in 18 meetings. The challenges that he – and the rest of the tour – have faced against Djokovic would make victory on Thursday and ultimately an 18th Grand Slam championship even sweeter for the Swiss.
“It's part of the reason why I guess I'm still playing,” said the 34-year-old Federer. “I feel like I'm competitive at the top. I can beat all the guys on tour. It's nice now that in the last three slams that I've been as consistent as I have been.
“I'm playing good tennis, fun tennis for me anyway. I really enjoy being able to come to the net more like back in the day. So I'm very pleased. It would mean a lot to me, no doubt about it.”
Both Djokovic and Federer are bidding to reach their sixth Australian Open finals.
The 28-year-old Djokovic has never lost in a final at Melbourne Park, lifting his first Grand Slam trophy Down Under in 2008 (d. Tsonga) and returning victorious in 2011 (d. Murray), 2012 (d. Nadal), 2013 (d. Murray) and 2015 (d. Murray). Indeed, his 5hr., 53min., battle against Rafael Nadal in the 2012 finale would suggest he simply refuses to lose.
Federer first triumphed in Melbourne in 2004 (d. Safin) and reclaimed the trophy in 2006 (d. Baghdatis), 2007 (d. Gonzalez) and 2010 (d. Murray). He was runner-up to Nadal in the 2009 title match.
Djokovic is looking to reach his fifth successive Grand Slam final, having not lost prior to the title match at a major since the 2014 US Open, when he was beaten by Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals. Last year, the Serb won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open and fell just one match short of completing the calendar Grand Slam, losing to Stan Wawrinka in the Roland Garros final.
While Djokovic escaped a five-set scare in the fourth round against Gilles Simon, Federer has come through the draw largely unscathed – only dropping one set to Grigor Dimitrov in the third round - and having played three hours and 26 minutes less than Djokovic. Should Thursday night’s contest go the distance, though, Djokovic is backing himself to have a slight edge against Federer, six years his senior.
“Roger is playing really terrific tennis in the past two years,” said the Serb. “We played two Grand Slam finals last year. I know very well how well he plays, especially in the later stages of a major event.
“He always makes you play your best. My best is what is going to be necessary to win against him. Hopefully I'll be able to deliver. This is going to be a big challenge for both of us. The longer the match goes, maybe I have a slightly bigger chance. I still don't think it's something I can heavily rely on.”
Unquestionably, Djokovic rises to the occasion in the big matches. The Belgrade native has won 15 of his past 16 tour-level matches against Top 10 opposition. His only defeat in that time came to Federer in the round-robin stages at the 2015 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Furthermore, he has won 12 of his past 13 matches against Top 10 opposition at Grand Slams, with his only defeat coming against Wawrinka in the 2015 Roland Garros final.
Federer is looking to reach his 29th Grand Slam final, which would make him the oldest finalist at the Australian Open since 1972, when Ken Rosewall (37 years, 62 days) and Mal Anderson (36 years, 306 days) played the final. At 34 years, 176 days, he is already the oldest man to reach the semi-finals at the Australian Open since Colin Dibley (aged 35 years 105 days) in 1979
The Basel native will need to buck the trend of semi-final defeats he has endured at Melbourne Park in recent years, falling in the final four in 2011 (l. to Djokovic), 2012 (l. to Nadal), 2013 (l. to Murray) and 2014 (l. to Nadal).