Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Federer Returns to Aussie Open Final, Will Nadal Follow Suit?
Roger Federer survived a tough five-set semifinal encounter with his Swiss countryman Stan Wawrinka to advance to the Australian Open final for the first time since 2010.
Now the question is: Will his longtime rival Rafael Nadal join him for a throwback final?
Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam champion and No. 17 seed here, looked like he would cruise in straight sets over No. 4 Wawrinka after winning the first two, but ultimately required five sets to take him out, 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3.
“It feels amazing,” said Federer, who is playing in in his first tournament after a six-month layoff because he re-aggravated a left knee injury. “I never, ever in my wildest dreams thought I was going to be coming this far here in Australia and here I am. I’ve got a couple days off, it’s beautiful. I’m so happy.”
Federer, 35, will now seek to become the oldest Grand Slam champion since Ken Rosewall in 1972 when he faces the winner between No. 9 Nadal and No. 15 Grigor Dimitrov in Sunday’s final. Nadal and Dimitrov meet in Friday’s second semifinal.
Nadal leads Federer 23-11 all-time, while Federer is 5-0 against Dimitrov.
“Dimitrov has got a very complete game,” Federer said. “He can mix it up super well, and I think he’s very confident right now. You never want to play confident players, but it’s either going to be him or Rafa. So it’s going to be tough regardless.”
Federer hasn’t won a Grand Slam title since Wimbledon in 2012 and hasn’t won a hardcourt major since the Australian Open in 2010. He had lost his last five Australian Open semifinals.
Andre Agassi was also 35 when he reached the 2005 US Open final, where he lost to Federer.
Federer’s return to the final at 35 seems in line with a throwback Australian Open that will also feature 36-year-old Venus Williams against 35-year-old Serena Williams in Saturday’s women’s championship.
En route to this final, Federer has now taken out the No. 4, 5 (Kei Nishikori) and 10 (Tomas Berdych) seeds. He was fortunate enough to avoid world No. 1 Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, after Murray was stunned in the fourth round by serve-and-volleying Mischa Zverev.
Federer improved to 19-3 against Wawrinka, 6-1 in Grand Slams.
If Federer captures the championship, he would win his 18th career major.
Nadal and Pete Sampras are tied for second all-time with 14.
With Federer holding a seemingly commanding two-sets-to love lead, Wawrinka called for a medical timeout to attend to his left knee.
After Wawrinka returned with a wrap around his knee, it seemed Federer might cruise in straights. But Wawrinka began to hit more freely, smacking gigantic forehands especially, and won the third set in 26 minutes.
He then won the fourth, forcing a decisive fifth set, the first between the two friends and Davis Cup teammates.
“I’ve had a leg thing going for the week and I felt it from the second game on in the match,” Federer said. “I don’t know why. I said, ‘You know what, I never take an injury timeout. Stan already took one, so why not?'”
Asked specifically where the injury was Federer said, it was “further up the leg.”
“That physio, he’s got some magic hands going on,” he said.
The good news for Federer is that he now gets two whole days off before Sunday’s final, where he could stage a throwback final against his old rival Nadal.
“I’ll leave it all out there in Australia,” Federer. “If I can’t walk for another five months that’s okay. I’ll give it all I have”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.