By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Roger Federer looked defeat full in the face before rallying in the 10-point tiebreaker to edge local battler John Millman in a five-set thriller on Friday night and reach the last 16 of the Australian Open.
It was Federer’s 100th victory at Melbourne Park and few of them can have been as hard as the four-hour, 4-6 7-6(2) 6-4 4-6 7-6(8) epic he shared with the teak tough world number 47 on Rod Laver Arena.
The 20-times Grand Slam champion made an extraordinary 82 unforced errors to go with 62 winners in a contest that was decided by the extended tiebreak introduced to prevent even longer contests.
Even that was not straightforward for Federer.
The apparently indefatigable Millman held leads of 5-2 and 8-4 on the back of some brilliant tennis, forcing 38-year-old Federer to rattle off five straight points before securing the victory with a crosscourt forehand winner.
“Thank God it was a super tiebreaker or I would have lost that one. John played a great match … he deserves more than half of this one,” said a relieved Federer, who will play Hungarian Marton Fucsovics in the fourth round.
“He came up with all that good stuff at the start of the tiebreak and I was saying ‘Okay, I didn’t play that bad’ and was getting ready for the press conference.
“It was really Johnny who made it difficult for me tonight.”
Millman, who got the better of the Swiss at the 2018 U.S. Open, produced a fighting performance worthy of the archetypal Australian battler Lleyton Hewitt, who was watching courtside.
“Disappointed, left it all out there. Didn’t win,” said the crestfallen Australian.
“Roger made it tough, that’s what the best players do.
“I know I’ll cop some (criticism) but I think when you understand tennis and stuff, I don’t think there was a whole lot wrong.
“It would have been great to serve an ace and put it to bed but … I played some alright tennis to get there, to that stage.”
Millman was on the front foot from the start and won the opening set before Federer grabbed the second on a tiebreak and the third with a late break of serve.
The Australian was never going to fold, however, and he pounced to break the six-times Australian Open champion for 4-3 after one of the many lengthy rallies that studded the match before taking the fourth set.
Millman also got an early break in the decider but Federer broke back and, as the crowd roared both players to the rafters, the match headed towards its dramatic denouement.
Defeat would have meant Federer’s earliest exit from a Grand Slam for five years but he would not have been alone as a big name departing after an upset on Friday.
The last three women’s champions – Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams – all went out along with Greek young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas as a rather predictable tournament suddenly exploded into life.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Toby Davis)