Federer: ‘It Was Crazy, Fun And I Couldn’t Be More Happy’
Six-time champion shares thoughts after Millman battle
As the Swiss stepped onto Rod Laver Arena on Friday evening, he knew there was a real possibility that another was just around the corner.
Playing against John Millman, who he had described as 'an unbelievably tough opponent', the six-time champion recorded his 100th Australian Open victory with an epic final-set tie-break triumph. A win that Federer admitted was a rare experience.
“It doesn't happen very often like this, because we're not used to [Match Tie-breaks] and being down by such a big margin is rare for us,” said Federer. “[I have] played a few, I guess, in the doubles. A few in the Laver Cup, as well. So you always feel as long as it's not match point you're still in it.
“But the air gets so incredibly thin. And you know that any over-hitting, too much risk or just handing over a point at this moment will cost you dearly. It's a very, very tight balance you have to choose there… This one was unique in many ways that I was able to turn a [Match Tie-break] around like this in an atmosphere. It was crazy, fun and I couldn't be more happy, of course. Big relief.”
Federer’s win against Millman snapped a three-match losing streak in five-set matches, following losses to Grigor Dimitrov (2019 US Open), Novak Djokovic (2019 Wimbledon) and Kevin Anderson (2018 Wimbledon). But as the end approached, it appeared as though a fourth loss was near as Millman dictated rallies to move two points from victory at 8/4.
Federer found a way to turn the match around, serving well to put the pressure on his opponent and winning six consecutive points to earn his first five-set victory since beating Marin Cilic in the 2018 final to win a record-extending 20th Grand Slam crown.
“It was a tough [final-set] tie-break throughout, because I didn't feel like I was playing badly or really taking bad decisions… He punished me every single time,” said Federer. “He was really coming up with the goods and was able to stretch the lead. Once he had the lead, I was always able to hold on with my serve and win my points, which was really important.
“Of course, there were crucial points, 8/7, 8/8, 9/8. I'm happy they all went my way. Things were extremely difficult, not just in the tie-break, but throughout the match for me against John."
While Federer improves to 3-1 in his ATP Head2Head series against Millman, there is no doubt that the Aussie is capable of causing problems for the 38-year-old. In two of Federer’s three victories against the Brisbane native, the match has gone to a deciding set.
“He's just so, so tough from the baseline… Every time I get a ball, I'm in two minds, because I have the option to do that with my game, but then he covers the court very well. Because he hits it hard enough, maybe it's harder for me to find angles," said Federer.
“I think the biggest problem for me was just I wasn't able to get… into those neutral rallies, finding the ways to unlock him. That's his credit. He's a great player. He's got great attitude and that's why I mumbled something to him at the net just saying, ‘I have so much respect for you, and it's such a pity, I'm so sorry, but well played.’”
For a man who has contested 1,510 tour-level matches and 157 tour-level finals, the main purpose of third-round matches is often simply to progress further in the draw for Federer. But the 20-time Grand Slam champion was clear that playing matches like tonight’s epic, regardless of the result, is one of the main reasons he continues to play the sport.
“If I do play tennis it's because of winning titles, trying to win as many matches as possible, enjoying myself out on court, but also being in epic matches like this. It doesn't always have to be finals," said Federer.
”As long as the crowds are into it, you have a great battle with an opponent who you really admire and respect, it's a good feeling. I'm happy I had that match tonight. I hope I would feel the same way also if I would have lost.”
Federer will next play Marton Fucsovics of Hungary in the fourth round on Sunday.