Novak Djokovic may hold a winning record against Roger Federer, but the Serbian is well aware of the threats posed by his great rival, as they prepare for the 50th instalment of their storied rivalry.
Djokovic and Federer go head-to-head on Thursday night as they battle for a spot in the Australian Open final.
The Serbian has a 26-23 lead over Federer in their head-to-head, and a 10-6 advantage in Grand Slam meetings. Djokovic has won their last five Grand Slam matches.
The world No. 2 leads 3-1 in their career meetings at Melbourne Park, and has won their three previous encounters at the Australian Open. Federer did win their most recent match at the Nitto ATP Finals in London last November, snapping a five-match losing streak against the Serbian.
While recent history puts Djokovic as the firm favourite in Thursday’s encounter, the Serbian has been quick to point out that his matches against Federer have been close, and quite a few of them could have gone either way. Indeed, all of their last five Grand Slam matches have gone beyond three sets, with two of them going the distance.
“Wimbledon last year, he had two match points, he was one shot away from winning that match,” said 32-year-old Djokovic. “It’s not like I’ve been dominating the match-ups. I’ve had success against him, as you said, in Grand Slams in particular. But Roger is Roger. You know that he’s always going to play on such a high level, regardless of the surface. He loves to play these kind of matches, big rivalries, semis, finals of Grand Slams.”
History is not the only factor leaning towards Djokovic on Thursday night, the world No. 2 also goes into the match in much better form and shape.
The Serbian has won all of his eleven singles matches this season, winning all six at the ATP Cup, and five more in Melbourne. He has dropped just one set at the 2020 Australian Open, against Jan-Lennard Struff in his opening match, and has got stronger as the tournament has progressed.
“I’ve been feeling well on the court,” said the Serbian star, who has a 73-8 record in Melbourne. “I’ve been building I think as the time passes by, in every match, I have more confidence, I feel better. At the end of the day, this is my favourite court [Rod Laver Arena]. It’s the court where I had the most success in my career. Hopefully things can come together for me in a positive way on Thursday and I can have a chance to win.”
Federer, on the other hand, has looked far from convincing in what is his first tournament of the season. The six-time Australian Open champion has had to survive a couple of huge scares. He was two points from elimination at 8-4 down in the match tie break against John Millman in the third round, while he saved seven match points in his quarter final against Tennys Sandgren, somehow squeezing into the last four. Both of those matches went five sets, taking Federer’s total on-court time in this tournament to 12 hours and 44 minutes. Djokovic has been on court for a cumulative 10 hours and 21 minutes. Federer struggled physically against Sandgren, and had to leave the court at a point to get medical attention on his groin.
All of these don’t bode well for Federer going into what should be a physically tasking semi-final against Djokovic. The great Swiss insists that he is feeling great ahead of the Melbourne blockbuster.
“When I got to the fifth set [against Sandgren], I was like, ‘Oh, it’s already fifth set’. I don’t feel physically exhausted, like against Millman. I recovered very well from that match. I’m also hopeful because I feel like I didn’t get spent completely today. I’m hopeful that I can recover actually. It really depends sometimes how you’re feeling inside, how much it takes away from you. But I must say I feel pretty good right now.”
As if Djokovic needed any extra motivation, he will regain the No. 1 ranking if he wins the Australian Open title. There is a lot on the line on Thursday night.
Djokovic vs Federer is live from Melbourne on Thursday, 30 January from 7:30pm local time/ 8:30am GMT. Read the full match preview.