THE first of the men’s semi finals at the 2020 Australian Open is set for Thursday in Melbourne and Sean Calvert returns to preview the superstar clash between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
The heat has finally arrived in Melbourne, with 35C in the shade temperatures for the ladies to endure during their semi finals on Thursday afternoon and it’ll still be 32C when the men play at 19:30 local time (08:30 UK), so it’s set to be a hot one.
That may make conditions a little quicker than we’ve seen all tournament long and perhaps it might give us a bit of an opportunity in what otherwise looks a potentially one-sided affair between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
The layers don’t fancy Roger’s chances at all in this one, making the Swiss bigger than 3-1 for the first time since the Dubai semi finals back in 2014 when Federer beat Djokovic as a 4.30 chance.
Now he’s as big as 6.50, which is the biggest either man has been in this match-up since Djokovic was a 16.0 chance, again in Dubai, back in 2007 when Federer won in a deciding set.
The reasons for this pricing are pretty clear to anyone that watched Fed limping to victory from the jaws of defeat against a choking Tennys Sandgren the other day, with Fed struggling with a groin injury.
Sandgren really should have converted one of his seven match points and that, of course, came after John Millman also blew an 8-4 lead in the final set of his round three clash with the Swiss veteran.
The problems for Federer this tournament are pretty clear and it’s all to do with the lack of pace in the surface, combined with balls that have been almost universally derided by the players and also the cool temperatures.
The balls appear to fluff up very quickly, making it tough for Federer to play his attacking game with the same kind of potency that he’s produced here in Melbourne in years gone by.
As a consequence he’s had to work much harder to break down the likes of Millman, Sandgren and Marton Fucsovics and it’s taken its toll on the Swiss maestro, who’s less than seven months shy of his 39th birthday.
Of his condition, Federer said after the Sandgren match:
“I don't know if you can call it an injury. It's just pain and problems and I need to figure it out. It's semi-finals you have an extra day. There's a lot of things: two good nights of sleep, doctors and physios. Hopefully we'll find out it's nothing really bad and that the groin went really tight and maybe from just playing a lot or through nerves.
“I felt like it came midway through the second after he had broken me. I felt like my defence wasn't really there. I was upset about the pain I was feeling so I had been playing with that pain for a while there. I still felt he was playing great. He had the offence, the defence and he had the serve I was expecting to bring.”
It’s a tall order for Federer to beat Djokovic over the best of five sets on an outdoor hard court anyway – he hasn’t done it since the 2009 US Open and he’s won only one of 10 sets contested here in Melbourne since 2007 – but chuck in an injury and fatigue as well, plus slow conditions and you can see where this price comes from.
Djokovic, meanwhile, has been excellent so far this tournament and his serve has been a real bonus for him and just look at these stats:
Djokovic has held serve 93.2% of the time, winning 84.1% of his first serve points and 57% behind his second, hitting 1.26 winners per game and only 0.78 unforced errors per game, while breaking serve 31.3% of the time.
As a comparison, Federer has held 88.1% of the time, winning 75.7% of his first serve points and 55.1% of his second, hitting 1.24 winners/game, but making 1.14 unforced errors per game.
So, Djokovic ahead in the areas where you’d perhaps expect Federer to be stronger (first serve and winners), while remaining some way superior in the unforced error count.
All of which means that the layers can’t possibly envisage Federer winning this match, pricing him up as a 6.40 underdog, and it does seem a very tall order for the Swiss to win, but perhaps the value lies with him now in some way.
If it’s going to be as hot as they say it might be the price on an opening set going past 10.5 games at 3.05 looks decent, given that six of their 10 first sets in majors on outdoor hard have gone to at least 12 games.
It may be that Fed only has one competitive set in him and while it’s a bit of a punt I wouldn’t be surprised if the uncertainty about Fed’s condition made for a nervy opener from both men here.
- 0.5 points win over 10.5 games in set one (3.05, Unibet)