For two sets, Roger Federer couldn’t do anything with Tomas Berdych. It was the younger 23 year-old Czech who seemed to finally have all the right answers getting within a set of snapping a seven-match losing streak to the 13-time slam winner.
The last time he prevailed was when he was a teenager during a 2004 Olympics upset preventing Federer from even medaling in Athens.
Unfortunately, nerves got the best of Berdych dropping the third set before Federer steadied in time coming back from two sets for just the fourth time in his illustrious career pulling out a 4-6, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 Round of 16 win advancing to the Australian Open quarterfinals.
“You’ve got to hang in there, there’s no other solution,” a relieved Federer said later. “Tried to weather the storm. He was hitting the ball so heavy and so hard. He pushed me to the limit.”
It was the aggressive nature of the dangerous No.20 seed which put the three-time Australian Open champ in such a huge hole. Berdych has always had the ability to be a top five player but never the consistency. However, on this day he was in top form outslugging Federer from the baseline ripping rockets from both sides of the racket for winners.
Berdych broke Federer right away and got a key insurance break needed to help put away the opening set. The second saw the 27 year-old Swiss break early but before he could sustain it, his focused opponent broke back keeping it on serve.
Part of Roger’s problems were due to his bread and butter forehand going off which made it even more difficult to deal with an accurate Berdych. Though he saved two break points before holding in the 11th game, the set eventually went to a tiebreaker.
Entering it, Federer had won four of the previous five versus the same foe but this time, it was Berdych who had all the answers getting a minibreak lead before sealing it with a cross-court forehand winner pumping his fist.
Trailing by two sets, Federer twice broke Berdych but once again relinquished them in uncharacteristic fashion. But with a real opportunity to pull off the biggest win of his career, the younger Czech tightened up handing the seventh game over with three bad volley miscues including an overhead he bounced into the net to give a relieved Federer another chance. This time, he made good holding twice more including three aces in the 10th game to get back in the match.
Berdych began to become rattled following a crucial Deuce point in which he thought his forehand caught part of the line. However, his challenge couldn’t be overturned due to a rare technicality with the system which wasn’t working. It looked like it missed but an upset Berdych debated the call with the chair umpire before netting a volley to give Federer an early break in the fourth set.
One huge difference compared to the first couple of sets was Federer’s accuracy. He began getting Berdych in longer rallies due to outstanding defense with the strategy paying dividends with his opponent cooperating. Berdych committed 32 of 42 unforced errors in the last three sets while Roger made just 15 of 40 the rest of the way.
Beginning to wear down, Berdych called the trainer to tend to a left hamstring during a changeover near the end of the set. When he returned, he went back to his go for broke plan slugging the ball as hard as possible for winners. It nearly paid off but a resilient Federer fought off two break points dialing up his serve before drawing a long reply to square the match letting out a loud scream along with a double pump of the fists.
With his opponent broken, Federer loosened up saving his best tennis for the final set breaking Berdych twice to go up 4-0 before holding twice more. The end didn’t come easy as he blew three match points even double faulting to give his opponent one last look at a break chance.
However, in typical fashion he got a service winner and then followed up with two aces including one out wide on his fourth match point to finally clinch victory letting out a loud scream to cheers from the Rod Laver Arena capacity crowd.
“I enjoy those kind of fights. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s always special,” Federer expressed after rallying from two sets down for the first time since 2005 against Rafael Nadal in Miami.
“I hope it’s a good omen. I feel like I could play a couple more sets, so that’s a good sign.“
The match took three hours and 28 minutes to complete but Federer looked like he would’ve gone even longer keeping a streak of quarterfinal appearances in slams alive extending it a record 20. His last defeat this early came at the hands of former French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten in Roland Garros back in 2004 of Round Three.
Federer will get another stiff challenge when he draws talented 20 year-old Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro. The No.8 seed cameback from a set defeating promising Czech Marin Cilic 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.
While it was anything but routine for the Federer Express, American Andy Roddick continued to roll along straight setting Spaniard Tommy Robredo 7-5, 6-1, 6-3. The seventh seed who’s only dropped one set in making the Final Eight had 13 aces to none also playing solid baseline tennis converting five of seven break chances punctuating victory with a nice forehand service volley winner before raising his arms in salute.
Roddick has had a pretty easy draw aside from a solid second round challenge from wildcard Xavier Malisse. However, business should pick up for the charasmatic 27 year-old former 2003 U.S. Open champ where he’ll await the winner between defending champ Novak Djokovic and former Aussie runner-up Marcos Baghdatis who’s been in fine form since trailing Robin Soderling a set and two breaks in Round Two.
If the unseeded Cypriot brings his ‘A’ game, he could challenge Djokovic. If not, a juicy quarter between the 21 year-old Serb and Roddick would be on tap with possibly Federer waiting in the semis.
Jankovic Upset: The biggest upset of Day Six took place on the women’s side with No.1 ranked Jelena Jankovic bowing out in disappointing fashion falling to No.16 Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli 6-1, 6-4.
With the Serb’s game not there, it was her 24 year-old opponent who took early control jumping out to a 5-0 lead using her power game to pull off the upset. She doubled Jankovic in winners (34-17) while finishing off 10 of 12 points at net.
In particular, Bartoli punished Jankovic’s second serve winning a ridiculous 71 percent (17 of 24 points) on her way to five breaks.
“I was really confident because I played really well [in] my last match against (Lucie) Safarova,” the pleased former 2007 Wimbledon finalist noted to the AP. “I knew I could beat Jelena on a good day, it was just a matter of executing it … play the right shot at the right time and doesn’t make too much mistake[s].
“I was not overwhelmed by the situation, and I just went for my shot[s] and everything went in today. It was just a great match.”
Meanwhile, it was a setback for Jankovic who still has yet to breakthrough at a major and entered off her best result making her fist final losing to American Serena Williams in a very competitive straight set effort at the U.S. Open.
“I just started slow. I … was completely not moving my feet. I was late on many shots. I was really not there, for some reason,” Jankovic lamented.
“I don’t know why. When I tried to focus and get into the match, things just didn’t work out for me.”
She paid plenty of credit to her game opponent:
“I thought, you know, just my opponent was … on fire today, and she was hitting everything and really went for her shots. Most of those were going in.”
Instead of continuing the pursuit for her first major, that will wait until Paris. Bartoli will next meet No.7 Russian Vera Zvonareva, who ousted countrywoman Nadia Petrova (10) in two close sets 7-5, 6-4 to setup a quarterfinal match.
Meantime, No.3 Russian Dinara Safina was almost an upset victim herself but found a way to comeback from two breaks and match points down in the third defeating No.15 Frenchwoman Alize Cornet 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.
The recently turned 19 year-old Cornet who already had set a new career best in slams making the Round of 16 just couldn’t put away Safina, who twice had amazing comeback wins last year in Paris including one versus Maria Sharapova.
Might it have helped? By her reaction, you couldn’t tell:
“I am so lucky that I’m in the quarterfinals, she was one point away,” the younger sister of Marat Safin pointed out in overcoming eight double faults and 52 unforced errors. “My heart is still pumping so hard.”
No matter how she got there, she’ll await the winner between feel good story Jelena Dokic and talented Russian Alisa Kleybanova with the latter leading 5-4 in the first set.