Roger Federer looked down and out in his Australian Open quarterfinal match against American Tennys Sandgren. Federer was clearly hampered by injury and unable to make inroads against the Sandgren serve.
For his own part, Sandgren was looking to become only the third American man to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since 2010. Andy Roddick reached numerous semifinals (and finals) over the course of his career, but his last one was the memorable 2009 Wimbledon final against Federer. In the 2010s only two American men reached the semifinals of a Major–Sam Querrey in 2017 and John Isner in 2018, both at Wimbledon.
Sandgren was looking to join American tennis history, and through most of the match it certainly looked like he was going to get it. Federer though, somehow, pulled off one of the more magical wins of his career to deny the American.
Roger Federer defeats Tennys Sandgren 6-3 2-6 2-6 7-6 6-3
There’s not too much to say about most of this match, honestly. It’s good fortune for Sandgren, and just bad luck for Federer. The Swiss came out firing in the first set, opening up break points in every Sandgren service game. He couldn’t take advantage early, but cruised to a 6-2 win anyway. After that, though, it was all downhill.
Sandgren held and broke to open the second set, and it looked like Federer had played just a poor game. By the end of the set it was not yet clear that Federer was ailing, though he was clearly not playing his best. That happens, of course, and is unfortunately more often as the all-time great gets older. Federer took the medical timeout after losing the set 6-2, though, and it was clear from there that something was very wrong.
Federer’s serve was clearly weaker and his movement not perfect starting in the third set. His extended medical timeout was off the court, which tells that the issue is somewhere that it would have been improper to receive treatment on court–likely a lower back or hip. Still, none of that should take away from Sandgren’s tournament or match. He tried to hang on, but like in the second set, he gave up a very early break and then was broken to lose that set 6-2 as well.
One of the most underrated stats of Federer’s career is that he has never once retired mid-match. He fought valiantly in this one, fighting and holding his serve throughout the fourth set. Sandgren’s serve was even stronger, though, and he showed no sign of folding under pressure. A bit of a loose game by Federer when serving down 4-5, plus some good and aggressive Sandgren shots, gave the American three match points. He couldn’t capitalize, though, and the match went on. In the ensuing game, Sandgren saved a break point before holding, and a Federer hold set up a tiebreak.
Federer looked better as the fourth set went on, and he seemed almost back to normal by the time the tiebreak arrived. Unfortunately for him, the Sandgren serve was just as strong in the tiebreak as it was in most of the fourth set. One bad forehand by Federer in the tiebreak (following a weird moment when a ballkid ran into Sandgren) gave Sandgren three more match points, but he couldn’t capitalize on any of them.
Federer took three straight points from 6-3 down, as Sandgren just couldn’t win a match point. Federer saved another match point down 7-6 with a strong rally that ended with a Sandgren backhand error, then he earned a minibreak for 9-8, which he took on a missed Sandgren overhead.
Federer started out serving strong. He still wasn’t 100%, but he was playing much better than earlier in the match. He opened up a break point chance in Sandgren’s first service game, but other than a few early loose points by Sandgren, both players were serving really well in this set.
Federer’s return got better and better as the set went on, and he put it all together in the 3-2 game. A Sandgren error kept him in the game, and that was all that the Swiss great needed. A strong return and brilliant forehand earned Federer the break and a 4-2, two games away from the win. A relatively easy hold put the Swiss Maestro one game from the one. Sandgren held in response, so Federer needed to serve this one out.
The #3 seed had no problem doing just that, though. Sandgren gave it everything he had, and opened a 15-30 lead in the game. Federer’s serve was back to normal, though. He won the next two points to earn a first match point of his own, and the all-time great took it for a 6-3 2-6 2-6 7-6(8) 6-3 win.
Roger Federer will face the winner of Novak Djokovic vs Milos Raonic in the semifinals on Thursday. That means he will have one full day to rest and hope that his back or hip can heal or loosen up before his next match. The way it improved as the match went on can give some hope that it was a simple soreness or tightness that can heal. It’s fortunate, though. Federer is essentially playing on borrowed time in this tournament anyway. He has now saved a whopping 11 match points in this tournament–seven in this match and four against John Millman in the third round.
Sandgren will rue this loss for a long time. The American, who is often barely a Top 100 player, seems to have an affinity for peaking at the Grand Slams. He reached the fourth round of Wimbledon last year before losing to Sam Querrey, and also beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in reaching the US Open third round. The American doesn’t have a great or powerful game, but he can be very consistent and play solid defense when he wants, and he also does a tremendous job backing up his serve. That combination means that Sandgren can often find a way to earn a break (either from an opponent’s bad game or one good one of his own) and then keep holding his own to wins the set. He somehow seems to put this all together at the biggest events, though he struggles mightily at smaller ones, even the Challenger level. How he will come back from this brutal loss to Roger Federer is yet to be seen, but it will be tough.
Embed from Getty Images