Australian Open SF preview and prediction: Federer vs. Chung

Roger Federer is two wins away from a 20th career Grand Slam title, which would mark his second triumph in the last three majors and third in the last five. It would also be his second in succession on the way to which he did not face either Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, or anyone else in the top five.

Federer appeared to be on a collision course with Juan Martin Del Potro or David Goffin for the quarterfinals and with Novak Djokovic or Alexander Zverev for the semis. So much for those ideas. The 36-year-old Swiss ended up meeting Tomas Berdych in the last eight (won 7-6(1), 6-3, 6-4) and he will go up against Hyeon Chung on Friday.

Although Chung had never previously accomplished anything in majors, his run has not come completely out of nowhere. The 21-year-old South Korean was hailed as a top up-and-coming player starting in 2015 and he staked a claim to being the best of his age group by winning the inaugural NextGen ATP Finals in Milan with a perfect 5-0 record this past fall. In Milan, though, Chung did not have the opportunity to beat the absolute cream of the under-22 crop (Zverev played the Nitto ATP Finals in London instead). As it turned out, that matchup was simply being saved for much higher stakes–in round three of this Australian Open. And it did not disappoint (well, except for Zverev’s performance in the fifth set); Chung pulled off a 5-7, 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 upset after three hours and 22 minutes. The world No. 58 also ousted Mischa Zverev (via retirement), Daniil Medvedev, and Tennis Sandgren without dropping a set to any of those three foes.

“Yeah, I’m really surprised,” Chung said of his run to the semifinals. “Because I really [didn’t] know (I could do it). I [made the] semis; I beat like Sascha, Novak, the other good players. I [had never played in the] second week in Grand Slam, so I’m really surprised.”

There will be no surprises on Friday, as Chung is obviously quite familiar with his upcoming opponent–even though he once looked up more to Djokovic than to Federer. With 19 Grand Slam titles under his belt, Federer is showing no signs of deterioration in terms or talent or passion for the game in this his 21st season on the pro circuit. The world No. 2 is six sets away from a successful defense of his 2017 Australian Open title following mostly routine wins over Aljaz Bedene, Jan-Lennard Struff, Richard Gasquet, Marton Fucsovic, and Tomas Berdych. Speaking of sets, Federer has not surrendered a single one so far this fortnight–although he was at least forced to come back from 5-2 down in the opener against Berdych on Wednesday.

“I’m very excited to play Chung,” Federer said. “I thought he played an incredible match against Novak. To beat him here is one of the tough things to do in our sport, I believe. I know that Novak maybe wasn’t at 110 percent, but he was alright. He was giving it a fight ’til the very end. To close it out, that was mighty impressive…. I think it’s an interesting match for me. I’ll definitely have to look into how I need to play against him because he has some great qualities, especially defensively like Novak has.”

Unfortunately for Chung, rarely is defense the recipe to beating Federer. Nadal used to do it with frequency, but the Spaniard also wields far more offensive firepower than Chung and much heavier topspin that troubled Federer’s one-handed backhand in the past. Moreover, unlike Zverev and Djokovic, Federer will not prolong rallies when he has Chung on the defensive by staying near his own baseline while being content to trade groundstrokes. Instead, the five-time Aussie Open champion will be–and always has been–willing to move forward and close points out quickly at the net when his opponent is out of position.

The enormity of the occasion should not be too big for Chung; he has already made that quite clear during his stay in Melbourne. But a matchup with Federer is simply not a favorable one for him–and not for anyone else right now.

Pick: Federer in 3

8 Comments on Australian Open SF preview and prediction: Federer vs. Chung

  1. Does anyone remember the last time someone retired from a major or even masters’ match because of blisters? I’m curious as to just how unusual this is.

  2. Sorry, autocorrect garbled what I was trying to say about the spectators only getting cheated out of one game.

    He couldn’t do anything and finally had to retire. I am sure it was disappointing to him.

    • Yep, it’s not going to take away what Chung had done the whole tournament – beating A Zverev and then Djoko.

      I think he’s unfortunate to play most of his matches in the day and his style of running all over the court certainly won’t help. Cilic also played many matches during the day, but his style of big serving and hard hitting certainly not as taxing on his legs. I do wonder did Cilic also develop any foot blister, like he did at Wimbledon last year? I hope not, I don’t want another not so pleasant slam final where one party suffers an injury and loses.

  3. Cilic lost Wimbledon final on the mental side. It was less to do with blisters. He was not himself till the end of last year.

    Fed hurt his back against Zverev . Could not compete, but complete the match.

    Next generation gives up too quickly.

    • After a little further reading and reflecting, I’m not so sure re Chung giving up too quickly. He’d been struggling with blisters at least since the Djokovic match. He’d had a pain killing injection but either it wore off too soon or was not effective. Hate to keep bringing Rafa up, but he’s the player I know most about. In his book it’s stated that he had a pain killing injection in the sole before his 2008 Wimbledon match for “a blister and a swelling” on his left foot and without it he’d “have been unable to play”. His injection held throughout that very long final. Sounds like pain killing injections for blisters are routine and normally effective. Maybe Chung just got unlucky. Anyway, fwiw the kid gets the benfit of the doubt from me.

  4. Fed will deal with Cilic easily! Cilic is a mental midget and I am sure he will find the reason to whine on Sunday I expect Cilic will have another injury as an excuse as soon as Fed starts dominating…

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