Roger Federer takes on Stan Wawrinka today in an all-Swiss semi-final at the Australian Open.
Federer’s victory in 2010 gave him a fourth Australian Open title, but he will look to avoid a sixth semi-final defeat in seven years when he confronts Wawrinka in the first semi-final. Federer came into the 2017 Australian Open having not played competitive tennis since losing the Wimbledon semi-final to Milos Raonic, but he has shown very little signs of the knee problem that forced him to miss the second half of last season in his brilliant march to the last four in Melbourne.
He didn’t exactly fly out of the blocks, but he has picked up pace through the tournament, and by the time he took on Germany’s Mischa Zverev in the quarter-finals, he was floating around like a butterfly. Federer made a stuttering start to the tournament, seeing off fellow veteran, Jurgen Melzer in four sets, while he did just about enough to close out American qualifier, Noah Rubin in the straight sets. Given Federer’s unconvincing form against qualifiers in the opening two rounds, a third round meeting with perennial top-ten campaigner, Tomas Berdych represented real danger for the great Swiss.
However, inspired by the elevated quality of the opposition, Federer produced a performance for the ages, shutting out the Czech in a clinical ninety-minute thrashing. It didn’t get any easier for the great man, as next up was world number five, Kei Nishikori. Nishikori made a blistering start, quickly evoking memories of Federer’s loss to Djokovic in last year’s semi-final; the Japanese was crushing return winners off both first and second serves, and exposing the meekness of Federer’s backhand, but with the set seemingly gone at 1-5, Federer launched a sensational fight back. The serve began to hit its mark, and the backhand found its sting, repelling Nishikori’s advances with stunning winners. Federer completed an improbable comeback, making up a double break deficit to force a tie break, which he amazingly began as favourite. Nishikori did well to take the opening set, but a massive scar had been dug in his mind.
Stanislas Wawrinka (Photo by PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images)
Federer dominated the next two sets, but another lapse in focus allowed Nishikori to take the fourth. Federer however, quickly regrouped to complete a very impressive five-set victory.
With world number one, Andy Murray following defending champion, Novak Djokovic out of the competition, the draw had suddenly opened up for the great man, and there was real belief that he could go all the way to win an eighteenth Grand Slam title. Instead of playing Murray in the quarter final, Federer had to contend with world number 50, Mischa Zverev, whose serving-and-volleying style was always going to play into the hands of Federer and his gorgeous passing shots. Federer was dialled in from the start, reducing Zverev to a spectator at the net as all sorts of passes whizzed past the bamboozled German. Zverev did well to make the second set more competitive, but it was all too much in the end as Federer completed a comfortable straight sets victory.
Having already seen off two top ten players, Federer’s next task will be to take down world number four, Wawrinka, who has become the highest-ranked player left draw following the exits of Murray, Djokovic and Milos Raonic.
Since making his Grand Slam breakthrough at the Australian Open in 2014, Wawrinka has won one major every season, and the menacing Swiss is well underway to get that customary Slam out of the way at the first time of asking in 2017. The 2014 champion was in all sorts of trouble in the opening round against Martin Klizan; he was a break down in the final set, but the Swiss dug himself out of trouble, the sort of way he escaped against Dan Evans at the third round of last year’s US Open before going on to win the tournament. A similar narrative is being scripted in Melbourne.
When Stan Wawrinka is the subject, form before a major, or his during the tournament really doesn’t count for much ahead of a big match, but he has been in pretty decent touch since that escape against Klizan. He eased past Steve Johnson in the second round, and recovered from the loss of the first set to see off Viktor Troicki in the third round. Wawrinka took out Andreas Seppi in three tie breaks in the round of 16 before making light work of a disappointing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semi-finals.
Wawrinka may be the higher ranked Swiss at number 4, compared to Federer’s lowly 17, but Federer remains the boss in terms of career meetings, with a dominant 18-3 record. This rivalry goes way back to a 2005 meeting in Rotterdam, which Federer won in straight sets. Wawrinka secured his first victory in their third meeting in Monte Carlo in 2009, but Federer broke free from there, winning eleven straight matches against his fellow Swiss. Wawrinka finally got his second victory in Monte Carlo in 2014, but Federer responded with five wins in six meetings, with Wawrinka’s sole triumph coming during his run to the French Open title in 2015. So, Stan’s three victories over Federer have all been on clay. That Roland Garros victory remains Wawrinka’s only success over Federer in Grand Slams, with the 17-time major champion winning their five other major meetings.
This is a battle between two of the best single-handed backhands in the business. Wawrinka carries more venom with his one-hander, while Federer’s is one of subtlety and variety. The same can be said of the serve, with Wawrinka consistently sending down missiles in excess of 200km/hr, while Federer deals more with accuracy and placement. Federer trumps Wawrinka on the forehand side and that could be the shot that separates the two Swiss on Thursday.