Federer and the Wil­liams sis­ters set for his­toric week­end of fi­nals

Re­turn to form goes like clock­work as Wawrinka felled by fel­low coun­try­man

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE - SI­MON CAMBERS IN MEL­BOURNE

OF all the things the Swiss has ac­com­plished in a ca­reer that is into its 21st year, in­clud­ing his seven Wim­ble­don ti­tles and 17 Grand Slam crowns in all, per­haps Roger Federer’s achieve­ments over the past 11 days at the Aus­tralian Open may even­tu­ally top the lot.

At 35, and hav­ing missed six months of ten­nis in the sec­ond half of 2016, Federer ar­rived in Aus­tralia hope­ful but un­sure how his knee would re­spond to the rigours of the Tour and the stresses of com­pe­ti­tion.

Yes­ter­day, he out­lasted his fel­low Swiss Stan Wawrinka in five sets, mix­ing glo­ri­ous shot-mak­ing with the in­evitable ten­sion of a Grand Slam semi-fi­nal and, on Sun­day, he will bat­tle for an 18th Ma­jor crown against ei­ther Rafael Nadal or Grigor Dim­itrov, who con­test the sec­ond semi-fi­nal to­day.

“I never, ever would have thought I could go this far,” Federer said, after his 7-5 6-3 1-6 4-6 6-3 win over the 31-year-old Wawrinka, who was left to rue a cou­ple of break-point op­por­tu­ni­ties at the start of the fi­nal set, when he seemed to have turned the match around.

Four-and-a-half years on from his last Slam tri­umph, at Wim­ble­don, Federer strug­gled for his usual flu­ency in his open­ing two matches.

Ev­ery­thing turned in a stun­ning dis­play as he swept aside No.10 seed To­mas Berdych in round three, since when he has beaten fifth seed Kei Nishikori, Andy Mur­ray’s con­queror Mis­cha Zverev and then, most im­pres­sively of all, Wawrinka.

The 31-year-old has won three Grand Slam ti­tles, one per year since 2014, in­clud­ing the US Open last Septem­ber, and he has built a rep­u­ta­tion for play­ing his best ten­nis in the sec­ond week of Ma­jor tour­na­ments.

Federer took the open­ing set thanks to one break late on and then upped his game in the sec­ond set, after which Wawrinka took a med­i­cal time-out for treat­ment on his right knee.

When he re­turned, he re­laxed and be­gan to start rip­ping winners from the base­line, storm­ing through the third set and then tak­ing the fourth to force a de­cider.

At that point, Federer took a med­i­cal time-out him­self, ad­mit­ting later that he has been suf­fer­ing from an is­sue with his leg through­out the event, al­beit one that will not af­fect him in the fi­nal.

“I think th­ese in­jury time-outs are more men­tal than any­thing else,” Federer said. “If you have some­thing with your groin or some­thing like that, you need tape and have to go off court. It’s the first time dur­ing a match we can talk to some­one. That can be pos­i­tive.”

Wawrinka had a break-point at 1-1 but pushed a short back­hand just wide and then at 2-2 he net­ted a rou­tine back­hand. At 2-3, Wawrinka played two loose points and then dou­ble-faulted to hand Federer a break he would not re­lin­quish.

“Mid­way through the fourth when I re­alised my game was fad­ing, Stan was hav­ing the up­per hand on the base­line and I thought, I guess that’s what I was al­ways talk­ing about,” he said. “Things turn for the worse, you don’t know why.

“But the good thing is, I did have the cush­ion from the first two sets. I think I did a lot of things right. I pre­pared the match in a way that al­lowed me to win it later on.”

From 4-2, Federer never looked back, serv­ing out com­fort­ably to reach his sixth Aus­tralian Open fi­nal.

“I’ll leave all the en­ergy here in Aus­tralia, and then I can re­lax after here,” he said. “It’s gone much bet­ter than I thought it would. That’s also what I was telling my­self in the fifth set. I was talk­ing to my­self, say­ing like, ‘Just re­lax, man. The come­back is so great al­ready. Let it fly off your rac­quet and just see what hap­pens’.

“I think that’s the mind­set I’ve got to have, as well, in the fi­nals, sort of a noth­ing-to-lose men­tal­ity. It’s been nice th­ese last six matches to have that men­tal­ity. It worked very well so I’ll keep that up.”

For Wawrinka, who won the ti­tle in 2014, it was a dis­ap­point­ing end to a good fort­night.

“For sure I’m re­ally sad and dis­ap­pointed with a loss like that be­cause to be that close to have won a semi-fi­nal, it can be only sad,” he said. “But at the end I know I tried ev­ery­thing on the court. I came from two sets down. I changed com­pletely the mo­men­tum. I started to be ex­tra ag­gres­sive be­cause I had to change few things also phys­i­cally.

“At the end I had a great bat­tle against Roger. He’s a great fighter. He’s al­ways been amaz­ing in Grand Slams, in five-set matches. I’m for sure sad to lose a match like that but I know there are a lot of pos­i­tives.”

Federer said he had no pref­er­ence who he plays in the fi­nal, even if he has never lost to Dim­itrov and trails Nadal 23-11.

“You would prob­a­bly think I would have a slightly bet­ter chance to beat Dim­itrov than Nadal, but who cares?” he said. “It mat­ters if you win or not. I am in the fi­nal, I know that. I know I’ll be there on Sun­day, that’s a spe­cial po­si­tion to be. All I care about is can I win the match.”

The 31-year-old has won three Grand Slam ti­tles, one per year since 2014, in­clud­ing the US Open last Septem­ber, and he has built a rep­u­ta­tion for play­ing his best ten­nis in the sec­ond week of Ma­jor tour­na­ments

SHOWDOWN: Federer will now face ei­ther Nadal, be­low left, or Dim­itrov, be­low right, in the fi­nal.

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