Australian Open: Federer Dodges Bullet in Five-Set Epic

Neil A. HickeyCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2008

So we were right, and we were wrong.

A sell-out Saturday night crowd had crammed into Rod Laver Arena in keen anticipation of a match widely predicted to give the Australian Open a hitherto unseen pulse.

But rather than the Lleyton Hewitt-Marcos Baghdatis grudge-athon, it was the early match that was good enough to not only start the heart but nearly stop it as well.

Roger Federer’s five set win over relative unknown Janko Tipsarevic is already being hailed as one of the tournament’s best ever.

A match of rare quality, for a third round or, indeed, any round, Federer eked out a 6-7, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1, 10-8 win over the 23-year-old unseeded Serb in a slugging contest spanning almost four-and-a-half hours.

When Tipsarevic hit a forehand long on the second match point, Federer pumped both fists, craned his neck forward and roared into his racquet, an outburst of elation and relief normally reserved for death row inmates pardoned by the governor.

It was nevertheless appropriate for the Swiss master who had just skipped execution.

As the players embraced at the net they received a standing O from the crowd as Jim Courier, commentating on Australian broadcaster Channel 7, said the match was “as good as it gets."

A deserving winner, Federer, who before tonight hadn’t dropped a set here in two years, was nonetheless lucky to have survived against a brilliant opponent who, despite a poker face, faded physically during the titanic fifth set.

Part of the rising tennis superpower of Serbia, Tipsarevic went into the match ranked just 49th in the world, but this showing promises a man whose destiny is a long career in the top 10 and maybe better.

For long stretches in this one, he consistently outhit Federer, who was strangely subdued, particularly on his backhand wing, and particularly in the final set, where curiously he eschewed any form of topspin until it was 4-4.

From that point, he put the sliced backhand away and began hitting over the ball. Tipsarevic, still a novice volleyer, had been coming to the net to pick off the more defensive groundstrokes.

The Serb was ice-cool during the set but went to sleep serving at 8-8 and up 40-0.

Some ripping forehands from Federer brought the game to deuce and he broke on his second break point, a rare moment of opportunism for the world number one who was a wasteful four for 21 on break point chances.

Tipsarevic was an astonishing three for three.

Federer showed true grace after the match, bemoaning that there had to be a loser and that the fairest result would have been a draw.

“It’s nice to be part of something like this,” he said in an on court interview.

Anyone who saw it will think the same thing.