BRISBANE - Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer survived a massive scare from Frenchman Jeremy Chardy Saturday to reach the final of the Brisbane International. Federer was outplayed for large parts of the match but lifted when it mattered to beat the eighth seeded Chardy in three sets 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 6-3. The one hour, 55 minute win puts Federer into Sunday's final against local hero Lleyton Hewitt, who took 35 minutes longer to beat Japan's second seeded Kei Nishikori 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.
Federer, who at 32 is the same age as Hewitt, admitted he found it difficult to like the Australian at the start of their careers but said they had both mellowed as they grew older and became fathers, and now they sometimes practised together. "We go back 17 years, our coaches back in the day were best friends," Federer said. "It's amazing we have a chance to play in Australia, our first time in a final here I think. I struggled a lot against him in the early stages of my career."
Federer looked as though he was headed for a straightforward win against Chardy when he broke the Frenchman's opening service game to jump out to a 2-0 lead. But Chardy recovered from that setback to work his way into the match and he began to look increasingly comfortable against the 17-time Grand Slam winner. Federer grabbed the first set after 33 minutes but Chardy's booming forehand began to hit home and the Frenchman started to dominate.
Chardy raced through the tiebreak to level the match and an upset looked possible against an at-times frustrated Federer. However, serving at 3-4 in the third set Chardy cracked, sending down two double faults and making two forehand errors to hand Federer the vital break. The world number six closed out the match to love, finishing Chardy off with a pair of aces, his 19th and 20th of the match.
Earlier, Hewitt drew on all his trademark fighting qualities to upset Nishikori. Hewitt recovered from losing the first set to overhaul Nishikori and maintain his record of never having lost an ATP semi-final on Australian soil in nine appearances. As the temperature at the Queensland Tennis Centre reached 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit) during their match, the 32-year-old Hewitt finished stronger than Nishikori, a player eight years his junior.
Nishikori had been the better player for the first set-and-a-half, pressuring Hewitt's serve while holding his own with ease. He broke Hewitt late in the first set and had chances of an early break in the second before the Australian began to gain the ascendancy. Hewitt broke Nishikori at 5-4 to take the second set then broke again at the start of the third, holding on to take the match in two-and-a-half hours.
"I don't know, I keep putting myself through it -- must like punishment," Hewitt said of the conditions. "It was tough conditions, really tough to play out there for both of us today. It turned into a mental battle." Federer and Hewitt have played 26 times in their senior careers, with Federer leading 18-8. "It will be good (to play against him)," Hewitt said. "You want to play against the best players, and obviously Roger and I have a good history and a lot of tough matches in the past in Slams and Davis Cups and everything."