Last night, the first of the two men’s semifinals was played on Rod Laver Arena. By the end of the second set, it looked like it was going to be a short night for the Australia Day crowd. Then Stan Wawrinka’s first break in the fourth game of the third set changed everything.
While the momentum of the match began heavily in Federer’s favor, both of the Swiss giants contended for the lead from the third set on. We know how the sets went but what about quality of shot?
Using a shot quality metric I previously introduced on this site, we can look at the set by set performance of Federer and Wawrinka on each of the major strokes of the game: serve, forehand and backhand.
Below is the set by set breakdown in quality of shot, where 100 points means the average shot was as high of quality as the highest observed in the past five years at the Australian Open. We see that the serve quality was the most strongly associated with the set outcomes, with Wawrinka having a higher score on the first thru fourth sets but dropping in quality in the fifth. Much of that was likely due to Wawrinka playing many of his second serves like firsts, taking big risks that paid off in the third and fourth. Federer, on the other hand, struggled on serve in the third and fourth.
Many fans were probably most eager to see the single-handed backhands of both players on full display. Although Wawrinka is often considered to have the superior backhand of the two, in this match, Federer actually had the better overall quality. I think the differences are likely due to Federer playing more backhand shots on the approach and at net, while Wawrinka was generally more defensive about his shot selection.
The forehand was the most variable in terms of the dominant player. Federer and Wawrinka were close to even in the first, third and fifth set, two of which Federer won. In the fourth, Wawrinka’s quality took a dive but was the highest of any player in the fourth.
While neither player was at their best in all sets, they hit some impressive highs in the quality of their play. Federer was the most consistent overall and that could have much to do with how he has managed to reach his 28th Grand Slam final.