‘No plans to retire’: Federer remains upbeat despite injury-affected Australian Open defeat to Djokovic

Hannah Wilks:

Roger Federer said he knew he had a ‘3% chance to win’ when he took the court to face Novak Djokovic in Friday’s Australian Open semifinals while carrying a groin injury, but remained upbeat about the future after his straight-sets defeat.

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Federer led 4-1 in the opening set and had points for a 5-1 lead, but ultimately lost 6-7(1), 4-6, 3-6 to Djokovic, his first straight-sets defeat to the Serb at a Grand Slam since the 2012 French Open.

Afterwards, the 38-year-old Federer denied that he has any imminent plans to retire despite a tournament largely defined by his struggles to compete physically.

‘You never know what the future holds. But especially my age, you don’t know. I’m confident. I’m happy how I’m feeling, to be honest. I got through a good, nice training block. No plans to retire.

‘From that standpoint, we’ll see how the year goes, how everything is with the family. We’ll go from there. Of course, I hope to be back.’

It was a somewhat subdued end to a dramatic fortnight for the six-time Australian Open champion, who breezed through his first two matches but found himself on the ropes in the third round against John Millman. The Australian had beaten Federer at the 2018 US Open and was two points from victory when he led 8-4 in the fifth-set tie-break, only for Federer to reel off the last six points of the match to win.

Federer was unable to win a set in his 50th clash with Djokovic (Photo credit: Sergei’ Vishnevskii’/Kommersant/Sipa USA)

Federer was in even bigger trouble against Tennys Sandgren in the quarterfinals, requiring medical treatment both on- and off-court during the match for a groin injury and having to save seven match points in the fourth set before winning in five.

It was rumoured that Federer might be unable to take the court to face Djokovic in Thursday’s semifinals, but Federer confirmed that it was not in question:

‘I went for a scan that same night, was all right. After that, well, we didn’t push it. I didn’t practise. I took a day off the next day. Today I just really rested until as late as possible. But I didn’t have any pain in the daily stuff. That was a positive sign.’

Federer performed above expectations in the opening set, taking six minutes to hold his opening service game after being dragged to four deuces, but breaking immediately with one of his finest shots of the tournament, a backhand winner down the line to lead 2-0.
Unable to do much but play with as much aggression as possible in a bid to keep points short, Federer’s attacking tennis rocked a rattled Djokovic back on his heels. The world no. 2 broke back, but dropped serve again and had a narrow escape from going 1-5 down. By the time Federer held serve for 5-2 in 61 seconds, he had served as many aces – five – as he had managed throughout the match against Sandgren.

Federer talks to the press (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Once Djokovic had broken back, however, the tide began to turn in his favour and he produced a flawless display in the first-set tie-break, winning seven of eight points to extend his winning streak in tie-breaks against Federer to five.

Federer kept the second set on serve until the last game when Djokovic broke to take it, and continued to produce winners until the end, but the writing was on the wall long before the match itself wrapped up.

Federer, who has famously never retired during a match, was resigned and upbeat about the decision to take the court, saying:

‘Today was horrible, to go through what I did. Nice entrance, nice sendoff, and in between is one to forget because you know you have a three per cent chance to win. Got to go for it. You never know. But once you can see it coming, that it’s not going to work anymore, it’s tough.

‘At the end of the day I’m very happy. I think I overall played all right. I know I can play better. At the same time I also know I can play much worse. With no tournaments beforehand, I think it’s a very, very good result.’

The 38-year-old is next scheduled to play at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where he won the 100th title of his career last year, which begins in just over two weeks on Monday 17 February.

Federer said he felt he would recover ‘rather quickly’.

‘You want to be 100 per cent to be able to train again, then get ready for hopefully Dubai. Right now it’s only guessing. I’m very happy that I don’t feel any worse than when I started. That’s for me super encouraging.’