For two sets it looked like Roger Federer’s run at a record 14th Grand Slam title was going to be derailed by Tomas Berdych at the Australian Open.
Then the 1.96m Czech had a meltdown and Federer swooped, recovering for a 4-6, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win yesterday — only his fourth career comeback from two sets down — to reach the quarter-finals.
“You’ve got to hang in there, there’s no other solution,” Federer said. “He was hitting the ball so heavy and so hard. He pushed me to the limit.”
Women’s No. 1 Jelena Jankovic had already gone down in straight sets to 2007 Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli in the day’s first match on Rod Laver Arena. And No. 3 Dinara Safina had a narrow escape, saving match points before fending off another French woman, Alize Cornet, in three.
A massive upset result loomed in the late afternoon when 20th-seeded Berdych was on top for the first two sets, working Federer around with powerful forehands to keep the Swiss star on the defensive. He made almost half of his 58 winners in the first two sets and consistently targeted Federer’s backhand with his powerful, kicking serve.
But Federer started finding his range. He got the deciding break in the third set when Berdych, visibly tightening, dropped a 40-0 lead and made unforced errors on three open court volleys.
“I remember I was against the wind and to get the break then was crucial,” Federer said. “Anyway, I came back and I guess that really gave me momentum. I kind of never looked back.”
The momentum really swung his way at the start of the fourth.
Berdych recovered from double breakpoint to deuce, and Federer got another breakpoint on a close line call. Berdych wanted to challenge, but no replay was available due to a technical glitch, so the call stood. Berdych argued with the chair umpire to no avail with the crowd breaking out in jeers, then netted a forehand to fall behind for the only break of the set.
Federer led 4-0 in the fifth but, serving at 5-2, nervously squandered double match point then double-faulted to give Berdych a break chance.
He forced deuce, fired back-to-back aces — the last was No. 20 for the match — then leapt in the air with a big “Yes!”
“I enjoy those kind of fights. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s always special,” Federer said. “I hope it’s a good omen. I feel like I could play a couple more sets, so that’s a good sign.”
Federer has won 13 Grand Slam singles titles, one short of Pete Sampras’ all-time record of 14.
He next plays No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who advanced 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 over No. 19 Marin Cilic of Croatia.
The last time he rallied from 0-2 to win in five was against Rafael Nadal at Miami in 2005.
Novak Djokovic was playing 2006 runner-up Marcos Baghdatis in yesterday’s night match.
The winner there will play seventh-seeded Andy Roddick, who ousted No. 21 Tommy Robredo 7-5, 6-1, 6-3.
Safina, who was down 5-3 and 40-15 with Cornet serving for the match, rallied to win 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals here for the first time.
“I am so lucky that I’m in the quarter-finals, she was one point away,” said Safina, who had eight double faults and 52 unforced errors. “My heart is still pumping so hard.”
Bartoli was the aggressor in a 6-1, 6-4 win over Jankovic that wasn’t entirely unexpected.
Bartoli next plays No. 7 Vera Zvonareva, who beat No. 10 Nadia Petrova 7-5, 6-4.