According to ancient legend, the witching hour is the time when supernatural forces are at their greatest.
Referenced in literature ranging from Shakespeare to JK Rowling, it is the time when the spells of ghosts, demons, witches, and wizards are at their most lethal.
Roger Federer, a supernatural force of the modern kind, has his own form of witching hour, a time when the world’s best player becomes positively superhuman.
While few players can actually go with Federer for a whole set, it is what happens at 5-all or 6-all that is downright spooky.
Like clockwork, the world’s number one invariably finds another gear and roars out of sight.
With a career record in tie-breakers of 214 to 114, he wins almost twice as many deciders as he loses.
Last year he won a remarkable 14 straight tie-breakers.
Tackling a determined James Blake for a spot in the Australian Open semi-finals, this willing match was visited by two witching hours, one a mirror image of the other, which decided the contest.
In the first set, having fought back from a break of serve, Blake served at 5-6 to stay in the set and force a tie-break.
But in a blur of fast feet and hands, Federer wove his magic, broke Blake’s serve and— abracadabra—the first set was gone 7-5.
It was a near identical case in the second, Blake bravely fighting back from an early break only for Federer to kick in again in the tie-break and—hocus pocus—the American was down two sets to love.
The loss of the second set seemed to snap Blake’s resolve although some ripping forehands at 2-5 forced Federer to drop his serve for the third time in the match.
Given the fact that Blake had never beaten Federer in seven attempts—all but one of them in straight sets—a 7-5 7-6 6-4 decision was a moral victory for the American.
Blake did marvelously well to make it this far, his best performance at this tournament in seven years.
At 28, he was the oldest player and the only American to have made it to the quarter-finals and on Monday he will be rewarded with a spot in the top 10.
Federer, who has had some anxious moments here in Melbourne but has now strung 19 wins in a row here, moves on to the final four where a mouth-watering match-up with Novak Djokovic awaits.
The talented Serb hasn’t dropped a set all tournament and really, ever since the tournament started, and has looked the most likely to upend the world number one.
Federer owns a 5 and 1 record against the number three seed but they are one win each in their past two—Djokovic surprising Federer in Toronto last year before the Swiss avenged that loss in the semi-finals of the US Open a few weeks later.
And this could be the key stat:
There were two tie-break sets in Toronto, Federer, unusually, lost both of them and lost the match.
At Flushing Meadows, there were two tie-break sets, he won both of them and won the match.
If the witching hour descends on Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic might be the latest to fall under Federer’s spell.