Roger Federer lived dangerously at the Australian Open, completing a fifth-set victory that will live long in the memory at 12:35 a.m. local time on Saturday morning. It was his 100th match win at Melbourne Park
Drawing upon his vast experience, six-time former champion Federer recovered an early break in the fifth set to eventually beat Australia’s John Millman 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(10-8) over four hours and three minutes for a place in the fourth round.
Federer recovered from 0/3 and 4/8 deficits in the eighth fifth-set tie-break of the championship for an historic victory that broke Federer’s three-match losing streak in fifth sets. He’d previously lost fifth-set matches to Grigor Dimitrov in the 2019 US Open quarter-finals, Novak Djokovic in the 2019 Wimbledon final and Kevin Anderson in the 2018 Wimbledon quarter-finals. His most recent fifth-set win came on the occasion of his 20th Grand Slam crown at the 2018 Australian Open (d. Cilic).
Millman said prior to the match, “If lightning strikes twice, I wouldn’t say no to it,” and the Australian, cheered on by thousands in Rod Laver Arena, very nearly added to his 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(3) victory over Federer in the 2018 US Open fourth round. Matching the third seed off the ground, and playing nerve-free tennis, Millman severely tested Federer’s stellar record against players are their home Grand Slam championship (now 39-3).
Millman, who prides himself in being one of the fittest players on the ATP Tour, started in confident fashion, holding serve to love and trading powerful groundstrokes with Federer, who lost his serve in the fourth game when Millman hit a backhand approach winner. Millman consolidated the break for a 4-1 lead by recovering from 0/30 and saving one break point, but got caught on the run by Federer when serving for the set at 5-3. In the next game, errors from Federer handed Millman the 32-minute opener.
Federer said he’d need three matches to start playing his best tennis and the Swiss started to fire in the second set, testing Millman on serve with deeper returns but could not convert his lone break point at 5-5, 30/40. Federer stepped up at 3/1 in the tie-break, seizing control with a big forehand that left Millman scrambling and rushed the net at 6/2 to strike an athletic backhand volley winner.
There was little to choose between the pair in the third set, but Millman gave Federer a look at 4-5, when he hit a double fault at Deuce, only to slam the door with an ace down the middle. Federer, now rushing the net and putting Millman deep behind the baseline, weathered an aggressive barrage and clinched the 45-minute third set when Millman over-hit a backhand.
Millman refused to give in and in the seventh game of the third set, chased down deep groundstrokes at 30/40 to force a forehand error from Federer and a 4-3 advantage. Unlike the first set, when Millman was broken when serving at 5-3, the 30-year-old didn’t make the same mistake, striking four powerful first serves into court for a cool love hold.
When Federer overhit a mid-court forehand long to give Millman a 2-1 lead in the decider another upset was on the cards, but never rule out a champion. Federer bounced back immediately for 2-2, and later Millman needed to recover from 15/40 for a 4-3 lead. As the pair’s fourth ATP Head2Head meeting edged closer to a deciding-set tie-break, Federer applied the pressure firmly on Millman’s shoulders, but the Australian didn’t buckle.
Millman stormed to a 3/0 lead in the eighth fifth-set tie-break of the championship and carried the momentum, including a superb forehand passing stroke at 7/4, but Federer won six straight points for a famous victory.