In the bottom half semifinal of the Aussie Open, Roger Federer, perhaps the most well-known tennis player of the last thirty years, will face Hyeun Chung, a newcomer. Their age difference – 15 years. Federer plays versatile, attacking tennis. Chung plays stubborn, physics-defying defense. Expect Federer to prevail. As they say, a good offense is the best defense.
Tale of the Tape:
Form and Fitness:
Hyeon Chung is exceptionally fit. In the third round, he ground down his fellow young gun Sascha Zverev in a five sets. Then he beat Novak Djokovic in just over three hours. Asked how he continued to fight after being level in the third set tiebreak, he quipped “I could go for hours… I’m younger than Novak.” Chung looks boyish and nerdy with his square-rimmed glasses, but he has legs of steel. He hits many a backhand from the near-splits.
Chung also has steel-clad composure. He weathered the storm of Zverev’s serves and groundstrokes, and then the storm of his meltdown. He weathered the pressure of playing his idol, Novak Djokovic, and despite giving up breaks in every set, crossed the finish line without dropping a set. To top it off, he followed up his victory and beat Tennys Sandgren in the quarters. Sometimes players have shock defeats after big victories, think of “the Nadal curse.” Chung’s never heard of such thing.
Roger Federer is not exceptionally fit. But he doesn’t need to be. Today’s Federer never plays marathon baseline matches. Today he plays quick-strike tennis, using his sparse, elegant footwork to move forward in the court. So far this tournament Federer’s hardly broken a sweat, not dropping a set in five matches. In his last match he navigated a 2-5 deficit against Tomas Berdych, arguing a bit with the chair umpire to defuse the tension. He defused the tension, and then defused Berdych’s explosive power. After breaking back, the match was all but over. Fed hit 61(!!) winners, winning 7-6, 6-3, 6-4. The Swiss is one of the best front-runners to ever play tennis.
I don’t think mental strength will be a deciding factor. Chung has a tendency to give away leads, but he never gives up. And if he wasn’t overawed playing his idol Djokovic, he’ll be A-OK against Federer. Federer is playing with a lot on the line, I imagine his fans are already buying tickets for the trophy ceremony. But with 19 Grand Slams and 1100-some match wins, being the favorite comes naturally.
Many compare Chung to Djokovic ‘lite’. Chung has a gorgeous backhand which he can hit full-stretch open stance. He’s extremely comfortable engaging in long baseline rallies, yanking his opponent side to side. Novak Djokovic plays in a similar way and has beaten Federer many times, most relevantly in the semifinal of the 2016 Australian Open. In that match Djokovic started off at an absurd level, winning the first two sets 6-1, 6-2. Many cite the Serb’s defensive ability in his wins against Federer. In truth, on that day Novak’s offensive ability was crucial. He hit deep returns. His first serve painted the lines. He won the majority of forehand rallies against Federer!, who at his peak had perhaps the best forehand ever.
for comparison: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSIZkKiLo98
Chung’s defense this tournament has been impeccable, on par with Djokovic. But his offense? Not even close. This spells doom for the young Korean. Federer eats defensive baseliners for breakfast, no matter how good.
Roger will drive backhands and curve forehands. He’ll serve better than anyone else Chung’s played, hitting all four spots across the service boxes. Importantly, he won’t get into energy-sapping baseline rallies. Instead he’ll come to the net and use his front-court game to break up Chung’s rhythm.
This whole tournament me and my fellow prognosticators have been underestimating 21-year old Hyeon Chung. I thought he would lose to Danil Medvedev in round 2. Then to Zverev in Round 3, then again Djokovic in Round 4.
Perhaps I’m continuing in my folly, but today Hyeon Chung will lose. No one on the planet plays attacking tennis as well as Roger Federer.
Federer in 3 sets. 7-6, 6-3 6-3.