Roger Federer admitted he was “incredibly lucky” after pulling off one of the greatest escapes of his career Tuesday, saving seven match points to beat Tennys Sandgren for a place in the Australian Open semi-finals.
In a drama-packed match, the normally ice-cool Swiss was slapped with a warning for swearing and needed a rare medical timeout for a groin injury before winning 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6 (10/8), 6-3.
The six-time champion’s reward is a showdown against either long-time rival Novak Djokovic or big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic.
“I don’t deserve this one, but I’m standing here and obviously very happy,” said Federer, 38, who became the oldest man in 43 years to make the last four at Melbourne Park after Ken Rosewall.
“I just said (to myself while losing), I believe in miracles,” he added.
“I got incredibly lucky tonight, today — I don’t even know what time it is.”
The victory was his 102nd at Melbourne Park, surpassing his tally at Wimbledon to make the Australian Open his most successful Slam in terms of matches won.
Federer said he felt the groin injury midway through the second set and was “upset about the pain I was feeling”, but is hopeful it is not serious.
“Hopefully we’ll find out that it’s actually nothing bad, that it was just the groin that went really tight from playing a lot, who knows what, from nerves,” he said, having now played 14 sets in his last three matches.
“I don’t know. I’m hopeful. We’ll find out tonight, tomorrow. The next day we’ll see how it goes.”
In two decades of playing the Australian Open, he had never lost to a player ranked as low as Sandgren’s 100, with his biggest upset coming against 54th-ranked Arnaud Clement way back in 2000.
The unheralded American had shown he could be a danger to the 20-time Grand Slam winner, having already beaten eighth seed Matteo Berrettini and 12th seed Fabio Fognini.
And he gave the Swiss star a massive scare.
– Federer rattled –
Both players fought off break points against their opening service games as they sized each other up.
But it was only a matter of time before Federer broke and it came in the sixth game as he began figuring out Sandgren’s game, forcing errors as he took the set.
But Sandgren wasn’t ready to surrender, breaking twice in the second set as Federer’s touch abandoned him, sending down 15 unforced errors.
Playing in the mid-afternoon sun, he continued to struggle in the third, broken in his opening service game with the crowd stunned into silence.
Federer was rattled. He worked three break points when 2-0 down and when Sandgren saved two of them, the Swiss was warned for an audible obscenity, reported by the line judge.
The normally unflappable star confronted the umpire and then lost three more points, again having words with the official before taking a near nine-minute medical timeout.
“I found it a bit tough,” he said of the penalty. “It’s not like I’m known to throw around words and whatever. It’s not like the whole stadium heard it either.”
Federer returned to hold serve but his movement was hampered and he never threatened, losing the set with another 15 unforced errors.
He grimly hung on in the fourth set, saving three match points at 5-4 and it went to a tiebreaker where more drama was in store as a ball kid collided with Sandgren at the changeover.
Federer incredibly saved another four match points before winning the tiebreak 10-8, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
His confidence sky-high and his touch returning, he rolled through the deciding set for a famous victory to reach the Melbourne semis for a 15th time.