If you don’t believe Roger Federer is back, think again. Federer missed six month to rehab his left knee and in his first tournament back he’s already beaten two Top 10 players and will be the heavy favorite Tuesday in Melbourne against Mischa Zverev and reach the semifinals.
Earlier today, Federer overcame a slow start to deny Kei Nishikori 6-7(4), 6-,4 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 in the Swiss’s first five set match since Wimbledon.
Federer once again was firing with his serve and from the group, and he said after that he’s feeling great after picking up his 200th career Top 10 win. And he’s now in his 49th career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
As Federer heads into the last eight, he met the press Sunday night in Melbourne.
Q. Did you expect five sets with Kei?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I kind of thought it was a good chance because I felt like probably he’s going to have a couple of good sets, I was going to have a couple of good sets. If you can’t defend them, you know, it gets split, and then the match moves on, then you’re deep into the match.
So, yeah, I mean, I didn’t expect him to play this well from the start. That put me on the back foot for the remainder of the match to some extent. But I was able to wrestle it back in my favor.
Got into the match myself. Started to play the good sets I was talking about that I knew I could. The question was could I hang with Kei till the very end. I was able to do that, so I’m super happy.
Q. Was that first set one of the more unusual sets you’ve ever played in terms of momentum swings?
ROGER FEDERER: Possibly. It doesn’t happen so often because, you know, I don’t often get broken back-to-back. Yeah, I was down 4-Love, 15-30, I think. It wasn’t looking good for a second there.
But, you know, these things happen. You have a game plan. He’s got a game plan. Sometimes it doesn’t match up the right way for you. He was, you know, quick out of the blocks. I was accepting it and moving on with it, trying to at least find some sort of a rhythm going into the second set.
I didn’t think I was going to come back in that first set, so it was tough to lose it. Maybe there was a let cord here, a bit of passive play by me, and also Kei, again, reading the right shots at the right time in the breaker. It was a tough set to lose.
But I was still upbeat about my chance after that first set. I think it gave me something coming back into that set actually.
Q. Would you have predicted that Federer and Nadal are in the quarterfinals and Murray and Djokovic aren’t?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, I mean, it all depends on the draw, as well. I mean, I felt like if Rafa and myself can be healthy, yes, you can expect that. That Novak and Andy are not, that is a big surprise. I never thought that Mischa Zverev and Denis Istomin would beat those two big guys.
I guess it’s good for tennis, you know, that a lot of guys believe stronger now that the top guys are beatable, are vulnerable, especially on a faster court. It happened completely in different circumstances.
But two huge surprises. No doubt about that.
Q. Three different kind of players – Berdych, Nishikori, then Zverev – who is a little bit like Stefan Edberg, your former coach, left-hander. How do you figure out all these three different matches?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, it’s going to be completely different to the last couple. It’s probably going to be more similar to Melzer in the first round, which is good that I played him. I have a lefty in me this tournament already. Tomorrow I’m going to practice with a lefty as well again, just to get ready for that.
I’ve played him a couple times before, once on grass, once on clay, never on hard courts. Obviously he’s on a high right now. He’s feeling great. Probably feels the best he’s ever felt on a tennis court. That’s how I would feel after the win today against Murray.
It’s going to be tough and different and tricky. That’s my mindset.
Q. The crowd tonight were very much in your favor, the loudest they’ve been all week, louder than matches involving Australian players. Do you have an idea why you’re so well-liked in Australia?
ROGER FEDERER: I don’t know if it’s louder than in other matches. I only know my matches. On TV the crowds seem good. As long as it’s sold out, I think that’s most important for the players, the fans, the tournament organizers. It’s nice to see that a lot of fans are coming to support the event here.
I’ve been always super welcomed here. I think it helps to come back here for almost the 20th year now. They got to know me. I had a chance to speak to them in the post match or in the press. Got to meet a lot of people playing in this country. It clearly has been a benefit.
Then I’ve always been very respectful towards, I think, the history here in this country. I try to just try my best, really, out on court. If then the crowd fall in your favor, that’s a great thing to have.
It’s nice to be as popular as I am here and get the crowd support. It’s definitely uplifting in important moments. I felt that today, especially in the fourth, fifth set. They were driving me forward, really were hoping that I win. Makes you feel better, for sure.
Q. You said Kei has one of the best backhands on the tour. Today clearly he was attacking your backhand with his backhand. How did you deal with his strategy?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, the good thing is you know going in that it’s going to be that way, so you’re kind of mentally prepared for it. If I wouldn’t know Kei, I’ll think, let me see how his backhand is. Every time it comes in flying really quickly with a lot of angle, a lot of pace, I would be caught. I would probably lose because I wouldn’t have expected it.
Because I know Kei now, I’ve seen him a lot of matches, it helps. I think it’s wonderful how he can wait till the last moment to change direction, also the way he finds angle cross-court. He’s one of the few that can actually do it with power. His left hand must be very strong. He wrestles the ball there.
I mean, I tried with variation, I tried with serve and volley, or maybe not playing there so much, slice when I can. Sometimes it’s so hard that you cannot get under the ball so well.
But I thought actually I hit my backhand very well tonight, which has probably won me the match for once, my backhand. Who knows (smiling).
Q. You began the tournament with three consecutive miss-timed shots. Given your progress, would you say you are closer to where you were before the injury?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I think I’m playing better and better. Today over a long period of time, I had to be refocused and playing good tennis. If I gave Kei too many opportunities, he was going to take them. I served exceptionally well tonight, which was key against Nishikori. I’m very pleased there. Rhythm from the baseline is there now.
I don’t get surprised any more from the power or the pace. Also the spin’s not the first round like it was against a left-hander. I explained that at length. Maybe that also was more difficult because of that, to find the rhythm.
But I’m in the tournament now and you know how the balls and the court surface reacts to my shots and for my opponents what can happen. I’m not getting surprised so much anymore, which is only helpful for the next round.
Q. How did you find, physically, the five sets today? You sound like you have a bit of a cold.
ROGER FEDERER: I’ve had a cold for two weeks. Nothing new.
No, I felt great in the fifth, I must say. Great energy. Even deep into the fourth I thought, Yeah, fifth, here we go, no problem for me. I’m feeling good about my chances. I was playing positive tennis, I was playing offensive. My body was reacting.
I was playing way better than the first couple of rounds where I put in a lot of mental energy to stay with my opponents, figure them out, how were they going to play, how were the conditions going to be, understand the comeback really.
I think now that I’m in the tournament I was able to focus point per point on my opponent, on the tactics. That didn’t drain me much. I felt great in the fifth, which I’m very happy about.
Q. That was your 200th win over a top-10 player. What are your thoughts on reaching that milestone?
ROGER FEDERER: I mean, it’s great, I guess. I don’t know. Didn’t know it going into it. I’ll probably forget it again tomorrow (smiling).
I just know I played a lot of tennis. I ran a lot. Obviously want to play really well against the best players. I was able to do that sometimes. But tonight was special, no doubt about it. Going five against Kei here on Rod Laver Arena with the comeback, it’s definitely very special. A fitting way to celebrate that milestone, I guess.
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