In one of his toughest matches at the Australian Open ever, Roger Federer defeated Tenny Sandgren 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6, 6-3 after three hours and 35 minutes, fending off seven match points in set number four! The 20-time Major champion never lost in the quarter-final in Melbourne in the previous 14 encounters, giving his 120% to keep that positive record today at Rod Laver Arena after battling with both the inspired opponent and an injury that almost took him down in the fourth set.
Sandgren claimed four breaks in sets two and three when he was the dominant force on the court, failing to make that extra step and convert one of his chances, missing the opportunity to become the first American in the semi-final here since 2009!
Federer will play in his 15th Australian Ope semi-final against Novak Djokovic or Milos Raonic, hoping to recover and give his best once again in the quest for the place in the final. In the opening set, the 20-time Major champion and the six-time Australian Open winner grabbed a break in the sixth game that carried him towards the end, serving well after the first game to get the first part of the match safely in his bag against the opponents whom he never faced before.
Sandgren earned a break chance already in the first game when Roger netted a forehand, denied by a well-constructed attack from the Swiss who held after the second deuce with a service winner to avoid an early scare. Federer wasted a significant chance of breaking Tennys in the second game after placing a forehand into the net but held at 15 in the third game with a volley winner to mount the pressure on the opponent again.
Playing against three break chances in the fourth game, Tennys fended them off with service winners, bringing the game home with a beautiful backhand crosscourt winner to level the score at 2-2 and gain a massive boost. Roger held in the fifth game with a volley winner, having a clear upper hand on the court and waiting for a chance on the return patiently.
From 30-0 down in the sixth game, Federer stole four straight points to grab the first break of serve when Sandgren sent a backhand long, holding at 30 in the next game to open up a 5-2 gap. Tennys reduced the deficit to 5-3 before Roger conquered the set with a hold in game nine for a 6-3 after 34 minutes.
Unlike in the opener, Roger made too many groundstrokes errors in set number two and suffered two breaks against the inspired rival who was trying to become the first American in the semi-final in Melbourne since 2009! Sandgren did everything right in his games and kept the pressure on the other side of the net, hoping for more of the same in the rest of the encounter.
Tennys held at the beginning of the set after a deuce when Federer netted a backhand, finding the range on the return and stealing Roger's serve at 15 in the next game thanks to a smash mistake from the crowd favorite.
Landing an ace in the third game, the American confirmed the break and move 3-0 up before Federer reduced the gap to 3-1 with a forehand down the line winner, ready to fight to pull the break back in the rest of the set.
That couldn't happen in game five, though, netting a volley at the net and allowing Tennys to build a 4-1 advantage. Roger held at 15 in game six with a service winner to stay within one break deficit but Tennys was not to be denied, firing another booming serve to move 5-2 in front and force a great rival to serve for staying in the set.
Facing two set points in that eighth game, Federer saved the first with a volley winner before sending a backhand into the net to hand the set to the American after 30 minutes of play. Struggling with an injury, Federer had to receive a medical timeout in the third set, playing way below his best and not being able to move like he usually does, also losing focus during the argument with the chair umpire.
Roger sprayed 15 unforced errors and got broken twice, just like in the second set, drifting further and further away from the 15th semi-final in Melbourne, never losing in the quarters here before. Sandgren held at 15 at the beginning of the set after forcing an error from Roger at the net, still hitting in full throttle and keeping the Swiss away from the comfort zone.
Federer suffered a break in the second game when his forehand cracked and sprayed errors, struggling to find the pace in the last 20 minutes or so. Facing three break points in the third game, Tennys produced some bold hitting to repel them all, taking five straight points and cementing the advantage with two service winners that sent him 3-0 up and gave him even more courage.
Roger received an audible obscenity warning in that game and took a medical timeout away from the court, ending his downfall with an excellent hold in game four before Sandgren produced his magic behind the initial shot again to take the fifth game at love with a forehand winner, extending the gap to a 4-1.
Unable to find the speed on the first serve, Federer held at love in game six but there was nothing he could do on the return, allowing Sandgren to keep the break with his 14th ace of the match and serving to stay in the set at 2-5.
Controlling the pace with strong and deep groundstrokes, Tennys created a set point with a volley winner, denied by a sharp forehand winner from Federer who missed a volley in the next point to offer the second set point to his opponent.
The Swiss saved it with a service winner before netting an easy forehand, struggling to move as he would have wanted but repelling the third set point with a forehand drive-volley winner. A double fault from a former champion offered the fourth set point to Sandgren who couldn't return the rival's serve, earning the fifth chance that Roger saved with another good serve.
In the end, the American seized the sixth opportunity following a loose backhand from injured Federer to take two sets to one lead and move closer to the place in the last four. Tennys closed the first game of the fourth set with a booming serve, still standing strong in the service games after that break he suffered in the opening set.
Federer stayed in touch early on with a service winner in game two, desperate for some chances on the return despite all the problems. That had to wait for some other game, though, as Sandgren made another comfortable hold with a forehand winner in game three, sending the pressure to the other side of the net and gaining more and more energy with every successful service game he left behind.
Battling for another game, Federer held at 30 with an unreturned serve to level the score at 2-2, giving his best to stay in contention as long as possible as he felt a little bit better on the court now. Still, there was nothing left for him in the return games, with another quick hold at love for Sandgren who moved 3-2 in front, needing one good return game to cross the finish line.
Two service winners got Federer out of jail in the sixth game, leveling the score at 3-3 and passing the first half of the set without damage we had seen in sets two and three, which gave him some hope in the remaining games.
Confident in his shots, Sandgren delivered another hold at love in the seventh game with a forehand winner, sending the pressure back to Federer and doing everything right so far against the great champion. Roger survived two deuces to level the score once again before Sandgren landed another ace to grab the next game and move 5-4 in front, forcing the Swiss to serve for staying in the match.
Federer opened a 40-15 lead before losing the next three points, fending off a match point after a backhand error from Tennys who couldn't convert the second chance as well following a forehand mistake. The American netted a forehand on the third match point, with Federer making a crucial hold with a forehand winner to hang in there.
With the momentum on his side, Roger earned a break chance in the 11th game with a forehand down the line winner, unable to convert it as Sandgren held for a 6-5 lead after a bold second serve that the Swiss failed to return.
Federer held at 15 to bring on the tie break where they both served well in the first six points before Roger netted a forehand to send the American 4-3 in front. Two service winners gave Tennys a 6-3 advantage before Federer produced his magic to erase match points four, five and six, adding more drama and excitement!
Serving at 6-7, Roger denied the seventh match point and had a set point with a smash winner that Tennys saved with an ace in the best possible moment! The Swiss endured a long rally to grab a mini-break and move 9-8 in front, closing the set for a massive boost ahead of the decider.
There, Sandgren survived two break chances in the second game to stay on the level terms with Federer who delivered three comfortable holds to control the pace behind the initial shot. The Swiss grabbed a break in the sixth game with a powerful forehand down the line that the American couldn't control, opening a 4-2 gap and thundering towards the finish line with a nice hold in game seven.
Serving for the win at 5-3, Federer earned a match point with a service winner and sealed the deal for his 102nd victory in Melbourne. "I think I made a good start of the season in Australia, doing the best I could with no preparation event before Melbourne; was a little bit unfortunate with that groin injury but I also got lucky to reach the semis; I should have lost twice in the previous rounds. It was nice to show my fighting spirit in those matches."