MELBOURNE, Australia — Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles could be equaled by Rafael Nadal at this Australian Open. But Federer’s own run here nearly ended before that could happen, at the hands of a player considerably further down the pantheon of greats.
Tennys Sandgren, a Tennessean ranked 100th, had seven match points in the fourth set of his quarterfinal match against third-seeded Federer on Tuesday afternoon, but Federer staved off each one, ultimately hanging on for a 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6(8), 6-3 victory in Rod Laver Arena.
“You’ve got to get lucky sometimes, I tell you that,” Federer said in his on-court interview. Sandgren made unforced errors on five of the seven match points, including two prolonged exchanges that ended on the 19th shot of a rally.
It was the second nail-biting escape of Federer’s tournament. In the third round on Friday, Federer trailed 47th-ranked John Millman 8-4 in a fifth-set, first-to-10 tiebreaker before reeling off six straight points to eke out a 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(10-8) victory.
Sandgren, 28, had never before faced Federer, but showed his readiness for the match by earning a break point in the first game, and then saving five in his own first two service games. Federer won the opening set, but Sandgren won nine of the next 11 games to pull ahead in the match.
Federer began to unravel midway through the third set. He became incensed after receiving a code violation for an audible obscenity when a lineswoman reported hearing him swear, and he accosted her in the back of the court afterward. When Sandgren took a 3-0 lead in the set, Federer called for the physiotherapist, then took an off-court medical timeout for several minutes for treatment for a groin injury.
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“I believe in miracles,” Federer said as to why he didn’t stop the match. “There could be rain, there could be stuff.” It briefly seemed as if that “stuff” had taken the form of a ball girl, who ran at high speed into Sandgren’s leg during a changeover midway through the fourth set tiebreaker.
Sandgren said the collision “stung” but did not affect him during points. He won the next three points to give himself a 6-3 lead and a look at a fourth, fifth and sixth match point, but Federer saved all three. A somber Sandgren said he had tried “to strike a balance between being aggressive and being tactically smart” on his match points after he “pulled the trigger a little early” on his first opportunity.