Federer marches on
Defending champion Roger Federer reached a record seventh Australian Open final after beating Hyeon Chung 6-1, 5-2 (RET).
14 years and 284 days separated the two competitors, but it was the younger player who succumbed to the physical demands of a run to a Grand Slam semi-final, with Chung retiring in the second set due to blisters.
But even if he had been fully fit, the South Korean would have faced a monumental challenge, such was the form of Federer.
As a thunderous storm blew into Melbourne pre-match, the Rod Laver Arena roof had been closed, creating the indoor environment that Federer thrives in.
With reduced wind interference and controlled conditions, Federer’s timing becomes even more precise and his accuracy increases to devastating levels, further enabling him to dictate proceedings on court.
And Chung felt the full force of Federer’s wet weather play in the opening set, falling behind 6-1 in the blink of an eye, with the Swiss devouring his opponent’s service games.
Keenly aware of the similarities between Chung and his great foe Djokovic, Federer was hyper-focused from the start, and hit 24 winners in just 62 minutes of play.
But it became abundantly clear that Chung was struggling, with the rubber-band movement that was so effective against Novak Djokovic conspicuous by its absence here.
The 21-year-old confirmed suspicions that he was injured when trailing 4-1 in the second set, calling for the trainer to treat a substantial blister on his left foot.
He returned to the fray to huge cheers, and showed admirable resilience to hold serve once play had resumed.
But another swift Federer hold proved to be the final straw, with Chung retiring to send the Swiss into his 30th Grand Slam final - an Open era record.
“It’s bittersweet to reach the final this way,” said Federer.
“I've played with blisters in the past and it hurts a lot. Sometimes it's too much...I could tell something was wrong before he took the injury time out."
While it was a cruel way for Chung’s tournament to end, he can look back with pride on a fortnight that has catapulted him into tennis stardom.
As for Federer, he will now face Marin Cilic in a repeat of last year’s Wimbledon final, a match that coincidentally also saw blisters play a prominent role.
“He [Cilic] had the same problem as Chung had in the Wimbledon final,” noted Federer.
“We will see a fresh and ready Marin this time around. We saw it against Rafa, and we saw it again last night against Edmund. He brings power, basically everything.”