Roger Federer knows he must strike a balance between daring and reckless as he strives to break Novak Djokovic’s grand slam stranglehold in Thursday night’s blockbuster Australian Open semi-final in Melbourne.
Federer and Djokovic will resume the most enduring rivalry in men’s grand slam history when they clash for a 15th time at a major – and 45th time overall in an epic series stretching almost a decade.
While the tennis titans are deadlocked at 22 wins apiece and Federer’s legacy as arguably the greatest player the game has seen is secure for now, Djokovic has had the Swiss maestro’s measure in their past three meetings on tennis’s biggest stages.
With victories in the 2014 and 2015 Wimbledon finals and last year’s US Open decider, the Serbian world No.1 has taken his own major title haul to 10, just one shy of legends Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg.
Frustrated to have been stalled on 17 for three-and-a-half years, Federer is desperate land an 18th at 34, a feat that would make the father of four the oldest men’s grand slam champion since 1972.
“It would mean a lot to me, no doubt about it,” he said.
But first he must find a way through Djokovic, who has proven nigh-on invincible in best-of-five-set tennis with 33 wins from 34 matches in the past year.
Relentless from the baseline, his defence almost impregnable, Djokovic will again look to run the Swiss ragged.
Federer has been back to his peerless attacking best this campaign, but isn’t being fooled by impressive statistics showing a 77 per cent success rate while storming the net on 129 occasions.
He is vowing to continue pushing forward, but knows he must pick his moments against the game’s premier counter-puncher.
“I’m playing good tennis, fun tennis for me anyway,” Federer said.
“I really enjoy being able to come to the net more like back in the day.
“The question is: Do you come in off a low ball because you’re being dragged in, or are you coming in on your terms?
“You would assume that these are not stats you can keep up. It’s okay. As long as you’re coming in on the right plays, it’s okay to be beat.
“You’ve just got to ask the question time and time again.”
Djokovic, bidding for a record-equalling sixth title at Melbourne Park, is well aware of the threat Federer poses.
“He’s trying lately to come to the net more, kind of shorten up the rallies,” he said.
“He definitely has the game for that. It’s obvious that he’s a very complete player.
“He’s got a great variation from the backhand side with the slice, short slice. He’s got great defence, amazing offence.
“He’s very complete. He puts constant pressure on the opponent. You have to be aware at all times. You’ve got to be tough. You got to be concentrated.”