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Top Moments of 2020: Federer’s escape after saving seven match points
When he finally won a match point of his own, the Swiss appeared incredulous, lifting his arms as if in slow motion. There was even an almost literal rub of the eyes in his courtside interview.
December 15, 2020
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Roger Federer has just about done it all in his career, but even he has never done anything like this before. Facing not one—not two, not three—but seven match points, visibly hobbled by injury and playing an inspired opponent, the 38-year-old still found a way to win his quarterfinal against Tennys Sandgren at the Australian Open.
It wasn’t pretty. Having easily won the first set against the world No. 100, Federer dropped his level of play and the second set 6-2, then went down 3-0 in the third as he argued with the umpire about an audible-obscenity warning picked up by a linesperson. It was followed by Federer calling the trainer for treatment on his leg, going off court to leave Sandgren complaining to the umpire.
By now, word had got around. More and more eyeballs around the world tuned in and watched, enthralled as Federer scrapped his way back into the match. Serving to stay in it at 4-5 in the fourth, he fended off three match points and got to a tiebreak. At 3-3 in the breaker, Sandgren collided with a ballgirl and appeared to hurt his knee, sending the tension on Rod Laver Arena even higher. But the former semifinalist shrugged it off, getting to 6-3—another three match points—and then 7-6—match point again. But Federer escaped them all, eventually winning the tiebreak and the fifth set.
When he finally won a match point of his own, Federer appeared incredulous, lifting his arms as if in slow motion. There was even an almost literal rub of the eyes in his courtside interview.
“You’ve got to get lucky sometimes,” Federer said, admitting he was unsure if he should have been the winner. “But I’m standing here and I’m obviously very happy.”
Having had more than a few famous defeats from match point up, a win from match points down was all the more satisfying. But victory was only possible because he stayed on court even when his injury appeared to give him little chance of winning.
“I thought l would let him finish me off in style and he didn’t do that. I was incredibly lucky,” said Federer, who has not once retired in a match during his career.
He wouldn’t win another match all season, nor play many more. Following a semifinal defeat to Novak Djokovic and an exhibition in South Africa the following week, he underwent knee surgery and did not play again for the rest of the season.
But it was the type of match that keeps him coming back for more.