MELBOURNE, Australia – The clash was highly anticipated.
No more so than by defending champion Roger Federer, for whom encounters with new, young blood on the ATP Tour stokes the competitive furnace like little else.
But in the end, it was the 21-year-old, Hyeon Chung who couldn’t stay the course, not the 36-year-old Federer, in their Australian Open men’s singles semifinal Friday night.
Chung abruptly retired, down 6-1, 5-2 in the match, and handed the spot in the final to his older opponent on a silver platter.
Despite having one day less of rest before the Sunday night finale against No. 6 seed Marin Cilic, Federer should be none the worse for it.
He was on court less than hour, if you factor in the medical timeout Chung took in a vain attempt to lessen the pain he was feeling from a radical case of blisters.
Blisters on his blisters – nasty
Here’s the official word from Chung’s agent Stuart Duguid.
“I think a lot of players get callouses. As they go along, they shave them down. Because he has played so many matches in a row, I think that’s why it was a buildup. I think that’s how they started.”
Chung’s blisters were exponentially worse than your standard blister.
“Over the last few days, it was blister under blister under blister. He had it shaved off. Now it’s red raw. They tried injections to see if it numbed the pain. It didn’t work. Much worse than a regular blister.”
You won’t hear Federer complaining about being unexpectedly free for a not-so-late dinner with his family and friends. Although he said all the right things and expressed regret about winning the match that way.
“You do take the faster matches whenever you can because there’s enough wear and tear on the body, there’s enough tough matches throughout the season that when they happen, you take them. There’s nothing you can do anyway about it,” Federer said.
“I’m just happy I’m in the finals, to be honest. That was the goal before the match today. I was able to get there. Not under the circumstances I was hoping to or not planning with. But I played a good match. He struggled clearly with his movement. I was able to take advantage of that. So for me clearly it was all good. I wish him a good recovery.”
Plan A, and Plan B(lister) for Federer
Federer said he knew Chung had been struggling with his feet. He saw him limping around the locker room. But, as he pointed out, it was an issue before his match against Novak Djokovic, and the 21-year-old played brilliantly to oust the less-than-100 per cent Serb in straight sets.
So if it was an issue on court Friday night, so be it. If it wasn’t, Federer had a game plan.
“In the beginning, I was trying to keep the points short. If I had to extend the rallies because he was doing a nice job of staying in them, you know, we’ll have some tougher rallies early on. I thought that was not a bad thing for me either. Then just trying to mix it up a little bit. I think you saw that with some short slices, making him come in, me trying to serve and volley. I didn’t serve and volley as much as I needed to, but that was always an option I could have played and used,” Federer said.
“As I realized that he was struggling, there was no need for me to push the envelope too much and take chances moving forward if I knew it was enough to be playing from the baseline against him.”
From top 60 to top 30 in a fortnight
For Chung, who cut his ATP Tour rankings in half with his effort as an unseeded player (from No. 58 coming in to an expected No. 29 on Monday), it was an unfortunate end to a breakout performance.
“But I think I did right thing. If I play bad thing on the court, it’s not good for the fans and audience as well,” he said. “I really hurt. I can’t walk no more, so …”
Chung’s next scheduled event is the New York Open (the relocated Memphis Open) in two weeks.