There is no dishonor in any of that. Chung has years ahead of him to become a more complete threat, and his movement dropped off after the opening games, when he was sliding, Djokovic-style into the corners.
Meanwhile, the second-seeded Federer continues to bust through mental and physical barriers and will face another member of the tennis establishment, No. 6 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, in Sunday’s final. Federer said it was bittersweet to reach the final in the way he did.
“I knew he was having issues with his feet going into it,” he said of Chung. “But I knew he also had issues going into the match against Novak.
“He handled that very well, the same against Sandgren,” he added, referring to Chung’s four-set victory over the American Tennys Sandgren in the quarterfinals.
“For me, I was trying to block that away and just play Chung himself,” Federer said. “If he had no issues, well, that’s normal. If he has issues, well, bad luck for him, and I’ll take advantage of it.”
Federer said he believed Chung was “going to be a very good player,” but he resisted making predictions.
“I don’t like to put too much pressure on players by saying they’re going to win everything, because I don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “A lot of experts, such-called experts, said I was going to be world No. 1 and win everything. In a way it’s funny and cool, but it’s not so cool in hindsight. Afterwards, anything you achieve is normal. I find it disappointing. Getting to No. 1, winning Grand Slams, winning Masters 1000s, it ain’t normal. It’s extraordinary.”
The pundits do deserve credit in this instance for getting it right, however. Federer has indeed become one of the greatest players of all time.
Sunday’s duel with Cilic will be a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon final, which, like Friday night’s semifinal, also turned into an anticlimax because of foot blisters: Cilic began crying on a changeover at the frustration of not being able to perform his best.
He presumably will need his top gear again on Sunday to trouble Federer, who has yet to drop a set as he defends the surprising title he won last year by prevailing in a series of tense five-setters.
His return visit has been much shorter on drama but not on statistical import. This will be Federer’s seventh Australian Open final, a men’s Open era record. It will be his 30th Grand Slam singles final, building on his own men’s record.
If he beats Cilic, Federer will have 20 major singles titles, increasing his record total among men to a nice round number that seemed all but unreachable when Djokovic was dominating the game in the first half of 2016.
Djokovic has fallen back because of an elbow injury, but Federer glides on — thoroughly in his element.