Roger Federer's Grand Slam Near-Misses No. 6: Australian Open 2011
Roger Federer is tennis' acknowledged Grand Slam king.
With the all-time records for Grand Slam titles (16), consecutive semifinal appearances (23) and consecutive quarterfinal appearances (32, and counting), it's easy to overlook the matches that might have undone these streaks and changed his legacy.
There are seven matches before the quarterfinals that could have done just that; here's a look at No. 6.
Gilles Simon: 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 (2011 Australian Open)
It was an almost identical match as that against Haas five years before, but in a totally different context.
To date the 2011 Australian Open is the last time he entered a major as the defending champion, and he relatively cruised through the opening rounds. In the third, however, he faced a Frenchman he had never beaten, Gilles Simon, being 0-2 against him in his career.
Simon plays the sort of baseline-hugging, defense-to-offense tennis most spectacularly epitomised by Andy Murray. Indeed, as a sort of French Murray, Simon had succeeded in crawling into Federer's mind in their last two encounters, where he had retrieved the loss of the first set to win in three on both occasions.
This was a best-of-five-set match, however, and Federer came up firing. He had ended 2010 with titles in Basel, Stockholm, and London, and begun 2011 with a win in Doha. It was all-out attack, and Simon could do little against such brilliance, dropping serve four times to lose the first two sets.
Then, just as had happened against Haas, he scrapped back, breaking in the third game of the third set, aided somewhat by an error-strewn Federer service game.
Bubbles started forming and bursting in the Swiss' game as he was flummoxed by the sturdiness of Simon's defense. The next two sets went by the Frenchman's way, and history, for a third time, seemed to be repeating itself.
More of the same continued in the fifth, as Federer sought to gather the golden standard he had displayed in the first two sets.
Saving a break point to lead 3-2, he strung together the most solid play from his side of the net in more than an hour to break Simon with a caressing forehand down the line. He held for 5-2, and ultimately served it out, not without moments of danger, two games later.
Federer, as he had five years ago, had nearly let a two sets-to-love lead slip. This time it was closer, though, but it seemed to foretell the two other occasions when he would do so—at Wimbledon (against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga), and the U.S. Open (against Novak Djokovic).
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