Saturday, January 23, 2016

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Federer passes Dimitrov test to make fourth round in Melbourne

Best of frenemies: Federer and Dimitrov
Somewhere in a small warm-up room in the winding corridors of Melbourne Park, Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov sat side by side watching Lauren Davis force a deciding third set against Maria Sharapova.

Federer gave out a loud ‘woah, are you kidding me?’ reacting to a point and jumped out of his seat when a long rally was over.

“That would’ve been the shot of the tournament,” the Swiss legend told Dimitrov and the rest of the group who were sat with them. The pair continued to watch, having a laugh, kicking about a tennis ball, knowing that a short while later, they would step on Rod Laver Arena and become adversaries. Not a scene you’d typically expect from fierce competitors at the top level of the game.

Soon after, Federer walked off the court a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 third round winner over Dimitrov to improve his record against the Bulgarian to a clean 5-0, and become the first man in history to win 300 grand slam matches in the process.

“Because we know each other quite well, yeah, we were pretty chilled going into the match,” the third-seeded Federer explained of the amusing scene ahead of their match.

“We've both been well-prepared. Sometimes you don't look much at the other guy. But with Grigor it's different, like with other guys on tour. There's many guys I would speak to before a match. That was the situation today.

“But I'm happy it still exists. We're not that far down the road where it's so professional where you can't even look at the guy before you walk on court. We're not there yet and I hope we'll never get there.”

Federer was competing in the Australian Open third round for a 17th consecutive year and his four-set win over Dimitrov made him the oldest man to reach the last 16 in Melbourne since Andre Agassi reached the quarter-finals in 2005.

On a rainy day Down Under, the roof had been closed for the first two matches on centre court but when the showers halted briefly, organisers opened the roof for the Federer-Dimitrov clash.

It proved an unwise decision as the rain started again just one game into the match, which had to be stopped until the court was dried and the roof was closed once again.

The interruption did not appear to faze Federer though, who held serve quickly upon resumption and got his first break point the following game. Dimitrov saved it but was broken in game seven to give Federer a 4-3 lead. It was all the Swiss needed to take the opening set, which he sealed with an ace.

Dimitrov, the No27 seed, struck back to take the second set and draw level but he dropped the third and asked for the trainer to get some treatment for a sore right elbow.

Federer slammed a signature backhand down the line winner to break for a 3-2 lead in the fourth set and he secured the win with a serve-forehand one-two punch to set up a fourth round with Belgian No15 seed David Goffin.

On getting his 300th match win at a major, Federer said: “It's very exciting. Like when I reached 1,000 (victories) last year, it was a big deal for me. Not something I ever aimed for or looked for, but when it happens, it's very special. You look deeper into it, I guess, where it's all happened and how. Yeah, so it's very nice. I'm very happy.”

Dimitrov, who lost to Federer in the quarter-finals in Brisbane earlier this month before reaching the final in Sydney the following week, has played 10 matches in the last 19 days and he admits he may have felt the effects of playing two lead-up tournaments to the Australian Open.

But the former top-tenner, who is looking to find his way back up the rankings, says he can only take positives from his Australian swing.

“I don't regret any decisions I've taken so far. Seems to pay off in a way, the work. I wanted to play a lot of matches. I did play a lot of matches. Lost to quality players, twice to Roger, once to (Viktor) Troicki. That's how it is,” said Dimitrov.

Over on Margaret Court Arena, Novak Djokovic took his winning streak against Italians to 33 consecutive victories after he dismissed No28 seed Andreas Seppi 6-1, 7-5, 7-6(6) yesterday to book a fourth round meeting with France’s No14 seed Gilles Simon.

Djokovic, seeking a sixth title in Melbourne, admits he has set the bar so high for himself that expectations of him have risen to incredible heights.

“It's almost like, you know, after the season that I've had, 2015, anything aside from a title or a final is not a success,” confessed the world No1.

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