Roger Federer has lost to Novak Djokovic in their last five Grand Slam matches- what must the great Swiss do if he’s to terminate that losing streak in their Australian Open semi-final meeting on Thursday night?
We examine five keys to victory for Federer.
First serve percentage
If Roger Federer is to get past Novak Djokovic on Thursday, it is imperative that his first serve consistently finds its mark. The great Swiss has served at an average of 66% through his first five matches in Melbourne, but I don’t think that will be good enough against Djokovic- one of the greatest returners of all-time. When Federer defeated the Serbian at the Nitto ATP Finals in November, the Swiss served at 73% on the night- he will need to be around that mark on Thursday. No one is quite sure about how well Federer is feeling physically- he says he’s fine, but is he really? Free points should be the order of the day, and the best way to get free points is to get that first serve firing. It is the one shot that he has complete control over. Djokovic will be waiting to devour second serves.
Federer has struggled against baseliners in this tournament, pushed to the brink of elimination by John Millman and Tennys Sandgren. Now, he runs into the master of that art. If Millman and Sandgren managed to get Federer into all sorts of trouble, imagine what Djokovic would do to the Swiss. Djokovic is a backboard on the baseline, consistently pinging the ball back with depth and accuracy. Because he doesn’t have any glaring weakness, he is so difficult to get off balance. The backhand is the stronger wing, but his forehand has developed into one of the best in the business. If Federer is to win this match, the forecourt will have to play a prominent role. He’s going to get passed a few times, but he’s also going to get plenty of reward at the net, as long as he comes in on the right approach.
The importance of the first set cannot be over-emphasized- the winner of the first set has gone on to win the last fourteen encounters between Federer and Djokovic.
The last time Federer defeated the Serbian after dropping the opening set was a semi-final meeting in Dubai in 2014. The Swiss has never beaten Djokovic in a Slam after losing the opening set. The first set is a lot more important for Federer in my opinion, as he appears to be the more fragile physically and mentally. Djokovic is relatively fresher- he’s younger and has spent two less hours on court from the previous rounds- and wouldn’t mind going the long haul, but Federer doesn’t have that luxury. The loss of the first set would be psychological damaging, and would leave him with a mountain to climb. I’m not sure he can surmount that mountain.
The forehand is Federer’s most potent stroke, and it must come to the party on Thursday if the Swiss is to get any joy against Djokovic. Federer has got plenty of variety on his majestic backhand, but that shot is directly up against the Djokovic backhand, one of the greatest shots in the history of the sport. Djokovic will target the Federer backhand, and he will most likely have his way in crosscourt exchanges. Hence, Federer must find a way to get his forehand into play as often as possible so that he can be the one to dictate the rallies. He basically needs to play this match on his terms, and the shot that will allow him to do that is the forehand.
I think this is by far the most important factor, especially given all that went on with Federer in his quarter final against Tennys Sandgren. If the Swiss is not hampered physically, I have no doubt that he can make this very competitive and possibly win the match. But that is a big IF…
Like Djokovic alluded to in the build up to the contest, some of their most recent meetings have been very close, despite most of them falling the Serbian’s way. Djokovic has won their last five Grand Slam matches, but they all of those meetings have gone beyond three sets. Two of them have been five setters, including that heart-breaking defeat in the 2019 Wimbledon final. Let’s not forget, Federer won their most recent meeting at the Nitto ATP Finals in 2019, and pushed the Serbian extremely hard in a Paris Masters encounter in 2018. If the great Swiss is feeling well, I think he will run Djokovic close again; if not, no chance.
Djokovic vs Federer is live from Melbourne on Thursday, 30 January from 7:30pm local time/ 8:30am GMT. Read the full match preview.