After a 2010 quarterfinal, the dulcet tones of Rod Laver Arena announcer Craig Willis informed spectators, “ladies and gentlemen, the master is in the house – 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals.” The words came after Roger Federer had completed a 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, 7-5 epic against Nikolay Davydenko.
What everyone had just witnessed was one of the most bizarre matches in the Swiss maestro’s career. Seldom has Federer looked so outclassed as when a flawless Davydenko was flashing winners all over the place to lead 6-2, 3-1. Then, he missed a routine passing shot to extend to 4-1 in the second set.
Suddenly a curtain came down on the Russian and he lost an almost incomprehensible 13 games in a row before making a brief resurrection at the end of the match.
“I can’t explain what happened,” Davydenko said later.
Federer was equally incredulous. “I couldn’t believe the way it changed,” he said.
Thursday night in Rod Laver Arena is the 20th edition of Federer–Davydenko, with the four-time Aussie Open champ leading 17-2.
Federer took the first 12 but Davydenko had won two in a row heading into all that craziness at Melbourne Park three years ago.
Currently ranked No. 40, the Russian won just a single match (US Open) at the four Grand Slams in 2012. But he began this year with a bang two weeks ago in Doha, winning nine consecutive sets (including 6-2, 6-3 over No. 5 David Ferrer in the semifinals) before fading 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 in the final against Richard Gasquet.
The former world No. 3 (2006) is still one of the game’s finest ball strikers and, if he were somehow able to win Thursday, it would be redemption for one of the most incredible collapses in tennis history.
Incidentally, that Federer 23-match sem-final streak Willis mentioned, it ended at the French Open (Robin Soderling) four months later.
An intriguing women’s match on day four features ageless Kimiko Date-Krumm, 42. She has a decent chance to reach the third round against Shahar Peer, whose ranking doubled from 37 to 74 in 2012.
At the other end of the spectrum, rising Croat sensation Donna Vekic, 16, takes on Caroline Wozniacki, still only 22. In a match-up of two big-hitting lefthanders, Laura Robson, 18, faces 2011 Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, 22.
Bernard Tomic, after waltzing though his opening match, plays in the afternoon heat against Daniel Brands. The 6-foot-5 German saved a match point in the first round of qualifying but showed impressive early-season form by reaching the semifinal in Doha two weeks ago as a qualifier, playing seven matches.
Following a 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 beating by an in-form Andy Murray on Tuesday, Robin Haase remarked, “you see in his (tight) shirt, he has worked out.”
Some fans of Murray – who plays Joao Sousa on Thursday afternoon – view him as a chiseled Adonis of the tennis courts. But it’s worth remembering that his now somewhat less than toned coach Ivan Lendl, 52, was the ripped athletic avatar of his day. After watching Lendl practice shirtless in a pair of tight shorts in Montreal 30 years ago, a young woman exclaimed, “his bum is 100 per cent muscle!”
TOM’S INTREPID TIPS
S. Williams def. Muguruza in two: After a 6-0, 6-0 opening round breeze, wonky ankle and all, Serena will lose…a few games against the 19-year-old Spaniard.
Kvitova def. Robson in two: The Czech’s asthma sometimes bothers her in heat but a late Rod Laver night match will spare her any problems this round.
Wozniacki def. Vekic in two: Vekic, 16 and ranked No. 111, is very promising, but Wozniacki’s experience makes the difference in this match-up of attractive blondes.
Federer def. Davydenko in four: The Russian still has enough oomph in his strokes and speed afoot to take a set from the Mighty Fed.
Tomic def. Brands in four: Brands can bomb serves and forehands and Tomic will be challenged more than in his first outing.