Locked at 22 wins apiece in a rivalry dating back almost a decade, both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will seek to break the tie on Thursday and seal a place in the Australian Open final. It is a match that has massive immediate ramifications but could also go some way to determining each man’s place in history.
For Roger Federer, it is a latest chance to close in on adding to his record haul of 17 Grand Slam titles. And it comes against the man who has thus far been his biggest obstacle to number 18. In the three Grand Slam finals the Swiss has reached since his last Major title in 2012, Djokovic has been his vanquisher on each occasion. While, unlike their meetings at Wimbledon for the last two years and the 2015 U.S. Open, this latest showdown may only be a semifinal, to both men the significance will in no way be diminished.
“I don't think there is too much difference playing Roger in a Grand Slam, Djokovic said after beating Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals. “Any round feels like finals because of the fact that we are, you know, big rivals, we played so many times against each other. There's a lot of tension. There's a lot at stake. I'm expecting a great fight in two days.”
Win or lose, Federer will retain a significant advantage in the Grand Slam title tally, with Djokovic currently back on 10. However, the Serbian is closing fast, and at the age of 28, six years younger than Federer, he shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Last year, Djokovic won three of the four Grand Slams, and his dominance over men’s tennis is now as pronounced as Federer’s was during his magnificent peak between 2004 and 2007.
In an era featuring Federer and Rafael Nadal, the debate over who is the greatest tennis player of all time has been a constant one. But the once inconceivable prospect of Djokovic catching not only Rafael Nadal’s 14 Grand Slam titles, but even Federer’s record-setting tally is now not nearly so far-fetched.
Now only a few weeks after he moved in front in his head-to-head battle with Nadal, he has the chance to do the same with Federer. Their rivalry has not been all one-sided in recent times, with Federer beating the world No. 1 three times last year. Djokovic, though, claimed victory on five occasions, and on the biggest stages -- at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the final of the ATP World Tour Finals. In fact you have to go back to 2012 for the last time Federer came out on top in a Grand Slam. Perhaps a positive omen for the 34-year-old, though, is that the win also came at the semifinal stage, when he went on to lift the title at Wimbledon.
While Djokovic experienced a hiccup in an error-laden five-set fourth-round clash with Gilles Simon, Federer has looked supreme in making it through to the last four at this year’s Australian Open, dropping just one set along the way. Picking up from a fine 2015, the third seed has continued to pursue a more aggressive approach on the court, something he believes could enable him to succeed on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.
“[Djokovic] will be hitting passing shots and I’ll be there attacking,” Federer said. “I’ll be the one controlling the match in a way so I accept that. I have to hold my service games because by holding it puts pressure on Novak.
“I know he’s really, really good, but he’s not a mega-server so he still lets you play. For me that’s good because I like to have time.”
Match time: 3:30 a.m. EST
TV schedule: ESPN
Live stream: Watch ESPN