Tennis: Back to the future as Federer storms into semis

Sports Tuesday 24/January/2017 20:56 PM
By: Times News Service
Tennis: Back to the future as Federer storms into semis

Melbourne: Four-times champion Roger Federer continued to roll back the years as he took apart Mischa Zverev 6-1, 7-5, 6-2 with a clinical display of all-court Tennis to reach his 13th Australian Open semifinal in 92 minutes on Tuesday.
Chasing an 18th Grand Slam title, and first since 2012, the 35-year-old Federer neutered his left-handed German opponent's serve-volley game to set up a last-four meeting with fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka.
"I think it definitely went as good as it possibly could have gone," Federer told reporters.
"I had to adapt my style. It was a nice match. I think I played great."
Looking in form as imperious as in his heyday of a decade ago despite missing the back half of last season after knee surgery, Federer is now one match away from a potential final against his old rival Rafa Nadal.
Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, will want to have a say about that as will Nadal's quarterfinal opponent, Milos Raonic.
But with both Williams sisters also still standing in the women's draw, it would be easy to imagine it was 2007 not 2017 at Melbourne Park.
Zverev's serve-and-volley game is a throwback to an even earlier era and the world number 50 contributed fully to an entertaining, if brief, contest with his fine volleying and net play.
The unorthodox game helped the left-hander beat world number one Andy Murray on Sunday, one of two stunning upsets along with the early exit of Novak Djokovic which have opened up the draw for Federer and Nadal.
Against Federer, though, it took Zverev 15 minutes to hold serve and get on the scoreboard and by that stage he was already 5-0 down in the opening set.
"I think he did not really let me play," said Zverev. "He just has so many more options, how he can, like, outplay me or pass me. It was different, definitely different."
Leaping backhand
The Swiss needed four more minutes to wrap up the set with a leaping backhand at the net but Zverev gradually found his touch and broke for 3-1 in the second set.
Federer broke again straight awayy but Zverev, who admitted after beating Murray that he had no Plan B, continued to charge to the net to greater and greater effect.
The Swiss bided his time, though, and a couple of brilliant backhand passes gave him another break before he served out the set with less than an hour on the clock.
A third set studded with deft shot-making went with serve until another Federer backhand gave him a break for 5-2 and a rasping crosscourt winner, his 65th of the match, sent him into a 41st Grand Slam semifinal.
"I'm happy, I never thought I was going to be this good," Federer said. "And here I am, still standing, in a semi against Stan, it couldn't be cooler for the both of us.
"I think him and Rafa know my game best. Stan and I practised so much together. Yeah, I guess those two guys know me very well."
Federer has been such an extraordinary player that he has all but lost the ability to shock with his feats on court.
Andy Roddick, who was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame on Tuesday and lost a Melbourne semifinal to Federer a decade ago, offered some welcome perspective.
"Everyone here is going to talk about it in every story they write for the rest of this tournament, and I still don't know if that's enough," the American told reporters. "It's pretty amazing."
Wawrinka wins
Former champion Stan Wawrinka engaged in a war of words with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before winning the only argument that mattered on Tuesday, storming into the Australian Open semifinals with a 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-3 win over the Frenchman.
Wawrinka bickered heatedly with the 12th seed during a change of ends after the first set before putting his aggression to better use, wrapping up the one-sided match in two hours and 15 minutes on a sun-bathed Rod Laver Arena.
Fourth seed Wawrinka will battle either compatriot Roger Federer or German giant-killer Mischa Zverev, who face off in the late quarterfinal, for a place in the final.
Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, put in his most complete performance of the tournament against Tsonga, sending 41 sweetly struck winners whistling past the out-of-sorts Frenchman, a former finalist but a shadow of his usual energetic self.
Tsonga put up some stout resistance early in the match but that crumbled in the first set tiebreak when he elected not to play at a blazing backhand pass.
It landed flush in the corner, giving Wawrinka four set points and Tsonga folded on the first of them.
The pair retired to their chairs between sets and suddenly began sniping at each other.
"What did you say? You're the one looking at me and talking to me. What are you looking for?" Wawrinka barked at Tsonga in French. "Come on, let it go. Did I look at you once?"
Tsonga's best response came in the second set when he broke Wawrinka in the seventh game after the Swiss botched a simple volley and hammered another unforced error.
But after Tsonga handed serve straight back, broken to love, tension threatened to boil over again as Wawrinka came forward to smash a winner directly at the Frenchman.
The Swiss waved an apology but Tsonga walked away.
Wawrinka stormed on relentlessly, breaking Tsonga twice more with a display of pure power hitting to take the second set.
Tsonga went a break down quickly in the third but had one last chance to rally when Wawrinka gave up a break point at 4-2.
The Swiss slammed the door shut, however, nervelessly crushing a forehand deep into the corner and then rushing forward to put away the volley.
Within minutes he had three match points, and his third semifinal at Melbourne Park sewn up when Tsonga pushed a defensive lob over the baseline.
While a semifinal against Federer would hold no fear for Wawrinka, he said he was fully aware his compatriot would be the crowd favourite as he bids for an 18th Grand Slam title.
"It's going to be tough to have some fans, but hopefully a few will cheer for me," he said in a court-side interview.
Muguruza loses
"Fake it 'til you make it," Coco Vandeweghe said after her fourth round upset of world number one Angelique Kerber this week and if the American is indeed hiding her nerves under a patina of confidence, she's doing a great job of it.
The big-hitting 25-year-old world number 35 blasted her way past seventh seed Garbine Muguruza 6-4, 6-0 at the Australian Open on Tuesday to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam for the first time.
French Open champion Muguruza was left simply stunned.
"I think she played unbelievable. Three times we played in the past, she didn't show this level," the Spaniard said.
"I have zero regrets about my performance. I think when you play with someone that has the power to disturb like this, to hit these kind of shots, and has a good day, I mean, it's difficult honestly."
Vandeweghe said the "calming voice" of her experienced coach Craig Kardon had helped ease her nerves before the contest but also posited that perhaps the butterflies in her stomach were necessary.
"Maybe I play better nervous and scared," she said. "I don't know. I think I don't shy away from a challenge necessarily. I never have. Growing up, I've always just been wanting to prove people wrong in a lot of different regards.
"I think it's more I take it as a challenge. I take it as an enjoyable challenge. It's what I want to do. It's where I want to be.
"To face the best players is definitely an accomplishment, to say for myself that I've gotten to the point that I've beat and face these top players."
That competitive edge may have derived from growing up in a family where sporting excellence was the norm.
Her grandfather was former New York Knicks basketball player Ernie Vandeweghe, she is the niece of former NBA player Kiki Vandeweghe and her mother Tauna was a swimmer who represented the United States at the 1976 Olympics.
"In my family, if you think you're too high, you'll get put down really fast. They're good about that," she said.
"It's a very competitive family, whether it's just playing cards around the table, or if it does end up coming to sports. But, you know, I like to think I'm smart enough not to mess with anyone in their said sport that they like to play.
"They're quick to bring me back down off my pedestal if I get too high."
Next up for Vandeweghe in the semifinals is fellow American Venus Williams, 11 years her senior and seven-times a Grand Slam champion.
"It's a dream to play someone you grew up watching," she said.
"But to do it at this stage of a Grand Slam is kind of crazy. I mean, I can't really put it into words."
Venus in semis
Venus Williams continued her astonishing late-career revival by felling Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4 7-6(3) on Tuesday to reach her first Australian Open semifinal in 14 years and become the oldest woman to reach the last four at Melbourne Park in the professional era.
The quarterfinal will hardly be remembered as a classic, with both Venus and the 24th-ranked Russian surrendering serve with alarming regularity despite perfect conditions for Tennis at Rod Laver Arena.
In the end it was 36-year-old Venus' experience that proved decisive when the pressure rose, and Pavlyuchenkova crumbled with a double-fault on match point to boost the American's hopes of a maiden title at Melbourne Park.
"Oh my gosh I'm so excited," said the seven-times Grand Slam champion after closing out the one hour and 48-minute tussle. "I want to go further. I'm not happy just with this.
"I'm just so excited that I have another opportunity to play again."
Following her run at Wimbledon, 13th seed Venus has now made the semifinals at two of the last three Grand Slams.
She was 22 when she last made the semifinals at Melbourne, during a run to the 2003 final where she was beaten by younger sister Serena, the current world number two, in three sets.
Venus will play an all-American semifinal against Coco Vandeweghe, who thrashed former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza 6-4 6-0 in the following quarterfinal at Rod Laver Arena.
The mouthwatering prospect of a repeat of the 2003 final against Serena beckons if the second seed can get there as well.
Venus has stormed through the Melbourne Park draw without losing a set and was never truly threatened by Pavlyuchenkova who let herself down with nine double-faults.
Both players struggled to hold serve but Pavlyuchenkova buckled at the bigger moments.
When serving at 5-4 to stay in the first set, she double-faulted and butchered a forehand to offer three set points.
Venus needed only one, hammering a backhand return down the line and giving a yelp in triumph.
There was no more resilience on serve in the second set, with both players trading breaks to move to 4-4.
Pavlyuchenkova double-faulted to fall back to 0-30 at 6-5, two points from elimination, but bravely rallied to take Williams into a tiebreak.
The Russian led 3-1 before it all fell apart.
She double-faulted to allow Venus to draw level and the American spanked a huge return down the line to edge ahead.
Venus hammered a forehand winner to bring up three match points and Pavlyuchenkova surrendered the match meekly with her ninth double-fault.