Federer GS SF Streak: 23 and Counting

12:28 Thu 28 Jan 2010
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Absolutely one of the most amazing achievements in sports history, and terribly underappreciated. The last time Roger Federer hasn’t reached at least the semifinal stage of a Grand Slam: the 2004 French Open. Almost six years ago! In addition, the only people he’s lost to in that span were the eventual champions. This on grass, clay, different varieties of hardcourt, in quite varied conditions—it hasn’t mattered. He’s always gotten at least to the semifinals, i.e. to the sixth round.

Furthermore, in that period he’s only failed to make the final three times.

His streak of Grand Slam finals is also ridiculous: seven in a row. His previous streak: ten in a row. He’s reached 7 of the last 7, 17 of the last 18, and 19 of the last 22 Grand Slam finals.

The semifinal streak looked to be in serious trouble against Nikolay Davydenko in the Australian Open quarterfinal, which is up there as one of the craziest matches I’ve ever seen (only the Gaudio versus Correa 2004 French Open final beats it). Davydenko came out playing amazing tennis, while Federer looked awful, the flattest I’ve seen him in quite some time. He was moving poorly, couldn’t serve well, was missing tons of first serves, and shanking shots all over the place. He didn’t settle down, and Davydenko made him look pedestrian or worse, taking the first set 6–2.

I thought that Federer might wake up after that, but it didn’t seem to happen, and Davydenko continued his stellar play, going up a break in the second. More than that, it looked as if Federer just couldn’t do anything, had no answers. Serving at 1–3, Federer went down 15–40. Davydenko missed the first break chance, and then forced a short backhand from Federer that was a sitter at the net. Federer clearly gave up on the point, and all Davydenko had to do was put away the routine backhand.

Which he somehow missed.

And, suddenly, that was it. I’ve never seen a match turn quite so much on a single point before, especially where that point wasn’t a missed match point or break point in the final set.

Other factors mattered as well, such as the weather getting cooler and the sun moving off the court, but it still appeared very much as if that single point represented a clean separator between two stages of the match.

After that miss, Federer held, then broke, then held, then broke again, then held to take the set 6–3. His play was suddenly the play you’d expect from the best player of all time, while Davydenko’s became awful—he couldn’t handle routine balls and was spraying errors everywhere.

Federer then reeled off the next set 6–0, and was up 2–0 in the fourth before Davydenko resurfaced.

The fourth set was the best of the match, as Davydenko was playing more like he had in the first, but Federer was also playing well. This set was extremely tense, because it wasn’t clear whether either player could sustain their form, and I was certainly worried about what could happen if Federer lost it.

Davydenko evened the set, went ahead 4–3, and then got Federer into a 0–40 hole. It looked as if both players might have been reverting to their first-set form. But Federer served five fantastic first serves to win the next five points, then broke, and served for the match at 5–4. He had match point at 40–30.

At which point Davydenko summoned his best tennis again, deciding that the match wasn’t over yet. Three amazing returns gave him the game, the break, and parity in the set.

Although the entire match can be seen as indicative of Davydenko’s inability to stay strong mentally over a full five sets, I think that this juncture really reflects how mentally strong Federer is. Davydenko is clearly back in the match here, playing unbelievable tennis, and threatening to dominate as he had in the first set. Federer has just missed his chance to finish the match off, and the momentum is going against him.

So he just goes out and plays stalwart tennis, refusing to back off the baseline in the rallies, and eventually breaks in the next game. Then he serves out the match, 2–6, 6–3, 6–0, 7–5.

Now he faces Tsonga, which could be a tough match. I think Federer will get through it, though, and I think he’ll beat Murray in the final, although that match could be a great one.

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