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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, January 24, 2020

Roger Federer

"Thank God it's a super tie breaker otherwise I would have lost this one," said Roger Federer after edging John Millman in an epic AO thriller.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Squealing sneakers and gritty growls signaled the depths of Roger Federer's desire.

Two points from elimination, Federer unleashed the gladiator within streaking through six straight points in subduing John Millman 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(8) in an epic Australian Open thriller that spanned four hours, three minutes. 

More: Wang Shocks Serena

It was an exhilarating escape act from Federer, who attained a major milestone earning his 100th career Australian Open triumph. Federer is the first player—man or woman—to achieve century club status at two Grand Slams surpassing 100 wins at Wimbledon as well. 

Federer fought through to his 18th career AO fourth round with a pulsating rush through the finish line.

On a night when Federer's best tennis eluded him and Millman was often calling the shots in cross-court exchanges,  sheer defiance, shrewd anticipation and a forehand strike on match point helped the six-time champion create closure. 

"Oh God it was tough," a relieved Federer told Jim Courier afterward. "Thank God it's a super tie breaker otherwise I would have lost this one. I think John played a great match...he's a great fighter, good guy. Itt came down to the wire at the end. A bit of luck maybe."

Lightning seldom strikes twice in the same spot, but the feisty Millman was poised to jolt Federer for the second time in a Slam.

On a steamy New York City night in 2018, Millman shocked a sweat-soaked Federer 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(3) to reach the US Open quarterfinals.

The Brisbane baseliner was poised to pull off another stunner tonight. Federer scattered 82 errors, was mis-hitting his forehand and sometimes forced to counter from his back foot as Millman was stepping in with purpose and precision and hurling fist-pumps toward his support box.

A tense and topsy-turvy clash climaxed in the match tie breaker. Millman, who had struggled at net all night, nudged a dazzling drop volley winner for a 6-4 lead. Two points later, the fired-up Aussie slipped a running pass crosscourt snatching an 8-4 lead.

Millman was two points from a massive and historic upset. Never before had both Federer and fellow former world No. 1 Serena Williams lost on the same day at the same Slam.

Twenty-three time Grand Slam champion Serena bowed to Wang Qiang earlier in the day and Federer was facing fifth-set demons and formulating his exit strategy in the post-match presser.  

"I had to stay so focused, take the right decision and he was doing all that stuff at the beginning of the breaker," Federer said. "I thought okay, I guess I tried. I was getting ready to explain myself in the press conference."

"The demons are always there lurking. Anyway, what a match. John deserves over half of this one."

Tennis Express

It's a gut-wrenching loss for Millman, who competed with the confidence of a man convinced he could prevail.

Ultimately, Federer found a higher gear, just as he did in racing past rival Rafael Nadal in the fifth set of the 2017 AO final. Millman should hold his head high for all he gave, but will certainly feel the sting of this near miss.

"It still hurts, to be honest with you," Millman said. "Probably rather lose it like 10-5 or something. Obviously would have been great to have served an ace and have a few matches and put it to bed. It didn't happen. You know, shit, I played some all right tennis to get there, to that stage.

"I could have gone away easily in that fourth set. Roger was playing pretty well. Had the momentum. I thought I turned it around pretty well. Yeah, left everything out there."

John Millman
Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Unrelenting effort helped the Aussie crack through for the first break of the fourth set. An extended forehand-to-forehand exchange peaked with Millman rocketing a forehand down the line drawing the error to break with a clenched fist for 4-3.

Sweat streaming from his face, Millman served out the fourth set setting up the first five-setter on Rod Laver Arena since Federer fought off Marin Cilic in the 2018 AO final.

"Be brave," Millman told himself before serving in the tie break.

Competitive courage from both men created high drama and a heart-rushing win for Federer, who will face sometime practice partner Marton Fucsovics for a spot in the quarterfinals.

A spirited rally left fans breathless and Federer nearly speechless.

Arms thrust toward the sky, another AO epic infused Federer with adrenaline and affirmation.

"I think if I do play tennis it's because of winning titles, trying to win as many matches as possible, enjoy myself out on court but also being in epic matches like this," Federer said. "Doesn't always have to be finals, I guess. As long as the crowds are into it, you have a great battle with an opponent who you really admire and respect, it's a good feeling.

"I'm happy I had that match tonight. I hope I would feel the same way also if I would have lost, to be honest."


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