Queried about his immaculate run of 2018, an age-defying streak that includes his record 20th major title at the Australian Open and a No. 1-clinching win in Rotterdam, Roger Federer cautioned, “Don’t jinx it.”
Superstitions be damned, the top-seeded Swiss moved ever closer to a record sixth title at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday, clinching a semifinal berth with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over begoggled 21-year-old South Korean Hyeon Chung. With the win, Federer matched the best start of his career, surging to 16-0 on the year for the first time since 2006.
Chung turned 10 that year, one that saw Federer finish at 92-5 and win three of four Slams. A dozen years later he stood on the other side of the net from the consensus GOAT, a promising young #NextGen riser appearing in the first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarterfinal of his career.
Chung, ranked a career-high No. 26, made his 36-year-old opponent work for it, but serving to stay in the opening set at 5-6, 15-40, he would surrender a break with a wide forehand to fall behind.
“I think I was getting my rhythm back from the baseline because I think I lost it in the breezy conditions,” said Federer. “Chung was really starting to get his range. I was downwind, so I think that helped to break him. It was also important to hold in the first game of the second set. I think maybe that was the key, those 10 or 15 minutes of the match.”
Breaks in the second and sixth games of the second set put the match out of reach for good. Chung did manage to save a match point with Federer serving at 5-1, 40-30, but the Swiss eventually closed it out in one hour, 21 minutes with his 12th ace of the night.
“It was a tough match,” said Federer. “Chung’s a great player. He’s a great returner, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.”
Federer had seen Chung before. They faced each other in January in the Australian Open semis, however Chung was forced to retire from that match with severe foot blisters trailing 6-1, 5-2.
As it turns out, Federer, Pete Sampras and Rod Laver were all in Stadium 1 on Thursday night. It’s not often that you gather a collective 45 Slam titles in the same area code, let alone the same arena.
“It’s nice to see Pete in the building. The same with Rod,” said Federer. “Seeing the legends of the game coming out — it’s a wonderful feeling for us.”
“He’s a very steady baseliner, similar to Chung, similar age, the future of tennis,” observed Federer, who topped the 21-year-old in their only head-to-head in 2015 in the Dubai semis. “A great mover as well. He’s got all the confidence in the world right now, so it’s going to be a tough one.”