Six-time champion Roger Federer has been forced to dig deep to beat off the dogged challenge from local hope John Millman in a titanic five-set match decided by a tiebreaker at the Australian Open that finished well beyond midnight.
- Roger Federer trailed 8-4 in the fifth-set tiebreak but won the next six points to snatch the win after more than four hours on court
- John Millman had forced a fifth set after winning the fourth 6-4
- Federer’s win was his 100th match victory at the Australian Open and he has reached the fourth round for the 18th occasion
Millman produced an almighty effort to push the 38-year-old Federer throughout the contest lasting four hours and three minutes, before going down to the 20-time major champion 4-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (10/8) in front of an appreciative crowd on Rod Laver Arena.
The Australian was only two points away from victory when he led 8-4 in the 10-point tiebreak but Federer showed why many consider him the greatest male player of all time, as he reeled off six straight points to come from behind and win.
“Oh, God, it was tough,” a tired but relieved Federer said in his on-court interview.
“Thank God it is a super tiebreaker, otherwise I would have lost this one. I think John played a great match. He might as well have been a hero in the match.
“I can’t even speak any more. It was a great fight, [he’s] a good guy. It came down to the wire at the end.”
Millman said he was “disappointed” to fall just short but was proud that he “left it all at there” on the court.
“It still hurts,” he said.
“I probably [would] rather lose it like 10-5 [in the tiebreak] or something. Obviously [it] would have been great to have served an ace and have a few match [points], and put it to bed.”
The win sees Federer reach the round of 16 at the Australian Open for a staggering 18th time, while he also posted a century of match victories at the tournament and maintained his perfect record against the host nation’s players at Melbourne Park.
Quite simply, this match had everything.
The quality of the tennis was of the highest order and there was drama at every turn, with a boisterous crowd only adding to the occasion.
Millman, ranked 47 in the world, had nothing to loss against the third-seeded Federer, and he would have only attracted more admirers to his already strong fan base following his gutsy display.
Some of his shot making was breathtaking and the 30-year-old clearly thrived on the energy of the Rod Laver Arena crowd, while at the same time he refused to be bullied by Federer.
After breaks of serve were exchanged in the final set and the score line read 6-6, both players knew a “super tiebreak” would decide who came out on top.
Millman dominated the tiebreak in the early stages, leading 5-2 and later 8-4 when an audacious forehand beat Federer all ends up.
Federer was staring at defeat and his earliest exit from the Australian Open since 2001 but he did not panic and worked his way back into the tiebreak to earn a match point at 9-8 in his favour when a Millman backhand lob went long.
A glorious crosscourt forehand on Millman’s serve then punctuated Federer’s victory close to 1:00am (local time), before both players embraced at the net to the wild cheers of the crowd.
“I thought John did a great job of keeping me on my back foot,” Federer said,
“I don’t know what to say. It was really John who made it so difficult for me tonight.”
Millman makes positive start
Millman was backing himself to show that his defeat of Federer in the fourth round of the 2018 US Open was no fluke and he could not have asked for a better start, holding serve to love in the opening game of the match.
He converted on the second of two break points in the fourth game and then held serve to establish a handy 4-1 advantage.
At this stage of the first set, Millman had been being rewarded for trying his hand, as backhands landed in the sweet spot and his hustle had made Federer uncomfortable.
The Queenslander only faltered once — when he dropped serve in the ninth game — but he bounced back immediately at 5-4 when he broke Federer for a second time to clinch the opening set.
Games went on serve for much of the second set, as both players added to their highlight reels; a Millman cross-court forehand brought the crowd to its feet, while a Federer backhand passing shot was also met by thunderous applause.
At 5-5 Federer got a sniff when he earned a break point, however Millman re-grouped to hold serve before his opponent did likewise to send the set into a tiebreak.
Federer seemed to step up a gear in the tiebreak with some astonishing groundstrokes and clear dominance at the net, illustrated by a neat backhand volley that iced the second set and levelled the match.
The high quality of the contest was maintained in the third set and when it appeared Federer was on the verge of getting on top in the ninth game, Millman responded.
He saved a break point and then finished off a remarkable 27-shot rally with a crisp forehand winner, before claiming the game at 4-4.
But the decisive moment came during Millman’s next service game when Federer had two sets points and he capitalised on the second when a backhand return from his rival went long.
The fourth set turned on its head when Millman broke to lead 4-3, having won the game when Federer found the net following a thrilling rally lasting 18 shots.
The single break proved the difference and Millman went on to the serve out the set and push the match into a deciding fifth.
In other results, last year’s semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas — who had beaten Federer en route to make the last four — departed the tournament when he lost 7-5, 6-4, 7-6, 7-6 (7/2) to former world number three Milos Raonic on Margaret Court Arena.
Spanish ninth seed Roberto Bautista Agut went down to 2018 finalist Marin Cilic in a five-set struggle, the Croatian winning 6-7 (3/7), 6-4, 6-0, 5-7, 6-3 after four hours and 10 minutes on Melbourne Arena.
And earlier in the day, defending champion Novak Djokovic went about his business to move through to the last 16 with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 triumph over Yoshihito Nishioka.
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