Swiss ace edges Wawrinka thriller to reach final
Melbourne: Roger Federer reached his first Australian Open final in seven years on Thursday and then made it as clear as he politely could that he would welcome the chance to renew his epic rivalry with Rafa Nadal as he chases his 18th Grand Slam title.
The 35-year-old Swiss came through an five-set battle with compatriot Stan Wawrinka to set up a final against Spaniard Nadal or Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who meet in Friday’s second semi-final.
“It’s real, I can really actually talk about a final, I’ve been dodging that bullet for the last few days,” Federer said.
“Rafa’s given me the most problems in the game ... I’m probably Rafa’s No. 1 fan, I think his game is just tremendous. He’s an incredible competitor.
“I’m happy that we’ve had some epic battles over the years and of course it would be unreal to play him here.” While Federer’s preference seemed clear, he did not earn his reputation as one of the great gentlemen of sport without paying due respect to both of his potential opponents.
“(Dimitrov)’s got a very complete game. He can mix it up really well. He’s very confident and you never want to play confident players, but it’s him or Rafa,” said Federer, laughing.
“It’s going to be tough either way.” Both Federer and Nadal missed the back end of last season because of injury, the Swiss after his first ever knee surgery and Nadal because of a wrist injury.
Federer said neither of them would have believed they would be potentially meeting in a grand slam final when they got together to open the Spaniard’s academy in Mallorca just a few months ago.
“I was on one leg, he had the wrist injury and we were playing some mini-tennis with some juniors and we said, ‘That’s the best we can do right now’,” he said.
“A few months later, we’re potentially going to be in the final. I think it’s been a very special tournament for both of us already.”
Federer unusually took a medical timeout in his three-hour, five-minute battle with Wawrinka, saying he had been carrying an upper leg injury.
He said he was not worried about it and nothing was going to stop him from taking to the court and fighting it out for a fifth Australian Open crown on Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.
“I’ll leave it all out here in Australia and if I can’t walk for another five months, that’s okay. I’ll give it my best shot,” he said.
“It feels amazing. I never, ever in my wildest dreams thought I would come this far in Australia. I have a couple of days off. It’s beautiful, I’m so happy.”
By entering the final, Federer become the oldest Grand Slam finalist in 43 years.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion saw off the world No. 4, 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3 in three hours and five minutes.
It will be Federer’s sixth Australian final and 28th Grand Slam decider in total, and caps a marvellous comeback to become the oldest man to reach a Grand Slam final since Australia’s Ken Rosewall (39 years 310 days) at the 1974 US Open.
In an enthralling contest, Federer won the opening two sets before Wawrinka clawed back to take the semi-final into a fifth, only for Federer to prevail with a service break in the sixth game.
“Yes, it is real now. I can talk about playing in finals for the first time,” Federer said on court.
“I have been dodging that bullet for the last few days now talking about the next round and the next round but this is the last one.
“So I will leave it all out here in Australia and (even) if I cannot walk for another five months, I will give it all I have.”
Wawrinka, who beat Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open final, was bidding to reach his fourth Grand Slam final and his second in Melbourne.
The two Swiss jockeyed in the opening games with Federer having three break points in Wawrinka’s second service game and Wawrinka getting two break points, but all were saved.
Wawrinka had another break point saved in the 11th game but he paid for a netted forehand in his next service game to drop the opening set in 50 minutes.
Wawrinka netted a backhand on break point in the sixth game of the second set and angrily smashed his smash in reaction, receiving a code violation warning from the chair umpire.
The match turned quickly for Wawrinka as Federer raced to a two sets lead after holding three set points.
Wawrinka left the court for a medical timeout and returned to the court with tape around his right knee.
But Wawrinka hit back with two breaks to take the third set in just 26 minutes as Federer became loose, giving his Swiss friend the chance to play his way back into the contest.
Wawrinka broke again in the opening game of the fourth set with a beautiful backhand return winner, but Federer broke straight back.
Wawrinka earned three break points in the ninth game with some splendid groundstrokes and on his third break point he rifled a forehand cross-court winner to break, and then served out for a fifth set.
But Wawrinka cracked with a poor service game and a double-fault on double break point gave Federer a crucial 4-2 advantage.
Federer held his two remaining service games to win on the first of his three match points.