MELBOURNE, Australia — It seems that even Roger Federer does not have an unlimited supply of miracles.
After getting himself out of jail against the Australian John Millman in a final-set tiebreak in Round 3 and saving seven match points in beating Tennys Sandgren in another five-setter in the quarters, Federer’s luck ran out at the Australian Open on Thursday as he was beaten 7-6, 6-4, 6-3 by Novak Djokovic.
The Serb’s victory sends him into his eighth Australian Open final, having won the previous seven, and victory over Dominic Thiem of Austria or Alexander Zverev of Germany in Sunday’s final would give him a 17th Grand Slam title and take him back to world No. 1.
In the buildup to their semifinal — the 50th meeting of their career — there had been speculation that Federer might not even make it onto the court. Two days was never likely to be enough to rest the groin injury that affected him against Sandgren, and his planned practice session changed a number of times as the clock ticked down to the semifinal’s evening start time.
But Federer has never retired during a match in his career. Once he made it to the court, he was confident he could finish. He also knew he had very little chance to win.
“Today was horrible to go through what I did,” Federer said. “Nice entrance, nice sendoff, and in between is one to forget because you know you have a 3% chance to win. You know, 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.”
Still, as Djokovic started slowly focusing on Federer rather than himself, the 38-year-old had some hope. At 4-1 up and leading 0-40 on the Djokovic serve, it looked likely he would take the first set. But the Serb quickly shut the door, and that pretty much was that. A brilliant flicked forehand pass gave him the break for the second set, and he pulled away in the third.
“He started well, and I was pretty nervous in the beginning,” Djokovic said. “I just want to say respect to Roger coming out tonight. He was obviously hurt. He wasn’t even close to his best in terms of movement, so respect to him coming out and trying his best all the way through.”
Novak Djokovic gives credit to Roger Federer for playing while clearly not being 100% healthy for their semifinal.
As someone who has won 20 Grand Slam titles and 102 titles in all during his career, success is a relative term. But all things considered, Federer will leave satisfied with his efforts.
“At the end of the day, I’m very happy,” he said. “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.”
In the days before the Australian Open began, Federer spoke about his belief that his record of 20 Grand Slam titles will someday be overhauled. Rafael Nadal stands one behind him with his beloved French Open next on the agenda, while Djokovic could be within three by the time this tournament is done.
It is a situation Federer is comfortable with. He still believes he could add to his tally, with the memory of last year’s Wimbledon, when he had two match points in the final against Djokovic, still fresh in his memory.
“I do believe that,” he said. “I think by having the year that I had last year, also with what I have in my game, how I’m playing, I do feel that.”
Of course, Federer knows that his body may dictate what happens from here on, even if his mind is still as determined as ever. He expects his injury to clear up pretty quickly, and there’s no sign of him calling it a day just yet.
“You never know what the future holds. But especially my age, you don’t know,” he said. “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.”
Djokovic said he could not wait for the final. “I’m pleased with the way I’ve been feeling and playing,” he said. “Dropped only one set to the finals and have two days of no match now, which is really great.”