Where to begin? If Roger Federer’s Round 3 match of the Australian Open was a Masterclass, then the Round 4 match was a near religious experience. Federer was in god mode. His forehands were majestic off both wings and his backhands continued to find the sweet spot. The Swiss’s serves zoomed in on target and he was a ninja at the net, silent, fast and deadly. And those were just his tennis shots. Shots alone don’t make a tennis god. For that you need to be a master tactician, reading your opponents play before they know it themselves; you need to have bursts of tremendous speed, cat-like reflexes, the stamina of a horse and a ballerina’s balance. When all stars align, these ingredients come together to make one perfect tennis player. And tonight 22 year old Milos Raonic from Canada, seeded 13 in Melbourne, had the misfortune to face off against a peRFect Roger Federer.
As expected, the entire match was a serve-dominated one. There were short, quick points, usually with a one-two punch. To be fair, big serving Raonic held his own. In the first 5 games of the first set, both men held their serve will equal ease. In the 6th game, serving to go up to 3 all, Raonic suddenly faced 2 break points at 15-40. An ace and a service winner took it to deuce before Federer had another break point. 2 excellent serves and a brief rally later Raonic held. The set continued in the same vein till the 10th game. With Raonic serving to make it 5 all, he double-faulted for the first time, giving the Swiss a break point at 30-40. This time Roger didn’t hesitate and caused Raonic to attempt a forehand volley which found the net. The Canadian was broken and in minutes Roger took the first set 6-4.
In the second set, both players showed some high quality tennis. 4 of Roger’s 6 games were love holds, with the 4th one taking only 59 seconds. Neither of them provided any break point opportunities for the other and it was inevitable that the set would have to be resolved through a tie-break. Again everything went according to serve the first 6 points at 3 all. After changing ends Federer was able to get a good read on the Raonic serve and lured him into a brief rally. It culminated with Roger taking the point with a backhand down the line. FedEx then held his own serve to go up 6-3. Raonic saved a set point with a service winner but couldn’t save the next one as Federer took the set with a forehand winner down the line followed by a roar from the Maestro.
Before the start of the 3rd set, Roger put on an undershirt just like he did in the match against Tomic. This shirt change drew whistles from the crowd as an amused Mirka looked around the stadium. But for Raonic, that shirt change might have been what extinguished any hope of resurgence. The Canadian was snuffed out by the Swiss as he broke his young opponent immediately in the first game of the set and then held serve to go up 2-0. Being two sets down and a break down in the third set seemed to weigh on Raonic as he lost focus. He started committing errors and was broken again for Federer to go up 3-0. While Federer was serving to go up 4-0, Raonic was finally able to get him to deuce for only the first time in the match. But any sniff of a potential break-point was immediately eradicated by a 207 km ace from Roger, his fastest of the night. By then Roger’s confidence was sky-high and he continued with creative shot making while Raonic committed more and more errors. Credit should be given to Milos that he did try to surmount a fight back and ultimately won 2 games in the set. But by then the writing was on the wall. Federer served it out to win the set at 6-2. He won the match in 113 minutes, 6-4, 7-6(7-4), 6-2.
The stats for this match were insane for Roger. He lost only 12 points on serve (5 on his first serve and 7 on his second). His first serve points won were a staggering 90% while he won 93% of his net points. He hit 14 aces (to Raonic’s 19), committed only 1 double fault and offered no break points the entire match. He even converted 3/7 break points which is very good for Roger as we all know.Let’s also not forget that some records were set with this match as well. With this win, Roger’s streak of reaching consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals stretches to 35 now. He’s reached 39 Grand Slam quarterfinals in total. This also keeps his record of never losing to players born in the 1990s intact. He is, as of now, the only man left at this year’s Australian Open who is yet to be broken. That is how good his serves are at this point. His matches with Paire, Davydenko, Tomic and Raonic took 83, 119, 118 and 113 minutes respectively – meaning he still hasn’t spent over 2 hours in a single match so far. The word ‘clinical’ doesn’t do this performance justice but I am running out of adjectives so it will have to do.
At this late stage of the tournament, the seedings of players almost don’t matter because they’re all so close to one another, unless there have been major upsets in the early rounds to allow unseeded players to sneak through. Federer was given the toughest draw of the top men and, as luck would have it, all the seeds have held in his quarter, no upsets took place. Meaning that up next for the Swiss is 7th seed Tsonga who has been quietly cutting through his draw like a hot knife through butter. He’s dropped only one set so far and has maintained consistent form throughout his first 4 matches.
This quarterfinal is bound to be the toughest test yet for Roger. A lot depends on day form for both men, particularly for Tsonga. If Tsonga brings his A-game aka Wimbledon 2011, Roger will have a fight on his hands. On the other hand, if the Maestro’s sublime form continues I can imagine this being over in 3 tight sets, maybe 4, in the Swiss’ favor. It’s bound to be exciting and will cause us fans to hyperventilate as usual. But it’s another night match so perhaps Pink Power will propel Roger to the semifinals at the Australian Open. This brings me to my last point as I leave you to ponder these ridiculous stats. If the Meastro reaches the semifinals on Wednesday it will be Roger’s 33rd Grand Slam semifinal and his 10th consecutive Australian Open semifinal. Enough said.