Quarter-final Preview: Federer & Sandgren Square Off In Melbourne
Having already completed an improbable run to the Australian Open quarter-finals two years ago, Tennys Sandgren proved he’s not a one-hit wonder with his latest effort to reach the last eight in Melbourne. But if the American is to achieve his maiden Grand Slam semi-final, he’ll need to tackle third-seeded Swiss Roger Federer when they meet on Tuesday.
“I wonder why he's not ranked higher, to be honest,” Federer said. “Every time I see him play, I feel like he plays very well. He's got a lot of stuff in his game that he's deserving of being higher.”
The 38-year-old Swiss is eager to add to his legacy with a 21st Grand Slam title. Should he capture a seventh crown in Melbourne, he’ll share the all-time record with Novak Djokovic for most titles at this event.
Federer’s path to the last eight hasn’t been smooth sailing. He was two points from defeat in an epic third-round clash with Aussie John Millman and dropped a set in his fourth-round victory over Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.
But the Swiss brings his best to the business end of tournaments and holds a flawless 14-0 record in quarter-final matches in Melbourne. Federer also has far more experience at this juncture than the American. Tuesday will mark his 57th Grand Slam quarter-final, compared to two for Sandgren.
Federer, who kicked off his fourth decade on Tour this month, finds himself in the unusual position of going up against a player he’s never faced. With longtime coaches Ivan Ljubicic and Severin Luthi tasked with a fact-finding mission on the American, he’s confident that he’ll have a sound strategy in place.
“The good thing is you have enough time here. It's not like at an [ATP] Masters 1000 or 500 or 250, where you finish late, then next thing you know, you have to play again at 6:00pm the next day, scrambling to get all the info together,” Federer said. “I think the coaches have seen him quite a bit. They'll try to get some more info, maybe look into how he's played in the past against players like me.”
One thing that Federer already knows to expect is that Sandgren’s current form defies his FedEx ATP Ranking of No. 100. The 28-year-old has continued to thrive at the start of the year. In addition to his pair of quarter-finals at this event, he captured his maiden ATP Tour title 12 months ago in Auckland (d. Norrie). Fourteen of his 36 tour-level wins have come in the month of January.
“I like how he moves. Very explosive. Has a nice first serve as well. He can counter-punch, but also likes to go on the attack,” Federer said. “It reminds me a little bit of the olden days, when you would do the transition game very good and very quickly. I feel like that's what I've seen a lot of him doing very well.”
Sandgren is regarded as one of the fittest players on Tour, but he arrived Down Under with even greater speed around the court and a noticeable increase in muscle. His hard work during the pre-season paid off last week with wins over Italy’s top players, scoring a five-set victory in the second around against eighth seed Matteo Berrettini and prevailing in a grueling fourth-round battle with No. 12 seed Fabio Fognini.
Although Sandgren may be reserved off the court, he has a clear love for the spotlight when facing top players in elite evehts. He holds a 5-2 record against Top 20 players in Grand Slams and relishes the opportunities that marquee matches bring.
“I haven't had that many looks or wasn't supposed to. The fact that I am [in the quarter-finals], I get amped up. I want to perform. I want to do well. I don't want to take the time on the court for granted,” Sandgren said. “Getting to play in a big stadium, in front of a lot of people, because I've played a lot of tennis in front of very few people, the fact I get to do that seems to bring out the best tennis in me.”
Having already reached the last eight once before at this event, Sandgren won’t be awe-struck for the occasion. The baseline battler is ready to leave it all on the court against Federer and believes he still has more Melbourne magic to create.
“It seems if I play pretty well, I have a shot. With the way I serve, some of the offensive and defensive skills I bring to the table, [it] seems to translate in some of these bigger matches,” Sandgren said. “I spent a lot of time in my career not sniffing these opportunities. The fact that I was blessed enough to keep hold of my dream and be able to try and fulfill it, have the body to do so, the opportunities… I definitely don’t take it for granted.”