On this day, 16 years ago, the entire tennis world enjoyed the semi-final encounter at Rod Laver Arena between the last year's Australian Open champion Roger Federer and Marat Safin, whom he beat in the title match. The Swiss claimed the first Australian Open crown over Marat in 2004, and this time it was the Russian's turn to serve revenge, ousting world no. 1 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 9-7 in four hours and 28 minutes of thrilling tennis that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats from start to finish. Federer had won the last 26 matches and 19 at Majors since Wimbledon 2004, playing on a high level throughout 2005 and suffering one of only four defeats in the entire season! The encounter took place on Marat's 25th birthday, and he made sure to give himself the most desired gift, especially after winning the title three days later. Roger had to deal with an inspired Safin and the elbow, back pain and blisters.
He did his best to come back from 5-2 deficit in the fifth set before finishing on the wrong side of the scoreboard when Marat broke him in the 16th game and converted the seventh match point! It was the shotmaking of the highest order on both sides, forging one of the most memorable clashes of the 21st century. Two of the most naturally gifted players of their generation pushed each other to the limits with accurate and authoritative serving, court covering and attacking tennis from every inch of the field. As we all know, Safin's mental aspect of the game wasn't always connected with his physical preferences and talent. However, he pulled everything right in Melbourne during that fortnight, under Roger's former coach Peter Lundgren. In the end, Federer won seven points more than Safin (four breaks of serve on each side), but it wasn't enough to carry him over the finish line despite the fact he had the advantage in the shortest points up to four strokes, the dominant kind of rallies in this fast and floating match.
Safin saved a match point in a thrilling victory over Federer in Melbourne 2005.
Nothing could separate them in the mid-range exchanges, and Marat prevailed in the more extended rallies with ten or more shots to stay in contention. Both players found the range on serve right from the start, and the first break chance came only in game eight when Marat fired a big serve to get out of jail. Roger held after two deuces at 5-5 and clinched the opener with a break in the next game when Safin sent a backhand long. The Russian went in front after a break in the second set's third game and kept the advantage until 5-4 when he wrapped up the set with an excellent half volley. Federer moved in front with a break in the third set's second game, but Safin pulled it back with a cracking backhand down the line in game five, returning to the positive side of the scoreboard and setting thrilling closure of the set. Returners had their chances in the finishing games, and it was Roger who took charge this time around, delivering a break at 6-5 after a colossal forehand error from Marat to take another big step towards the final.
The fourth set produced some tremendous hitting and no break opportunities, heading towards the tie break that was a must-win one for Marat. The pressure was on the Russian, and Roger took full advantage of that, blasting a return winner to gain a 5-2 lead and move two points away from the finish line. With no room for errors, Safin won the next two return points before Federer earned a match point at 6-5 for his second straight Australian Open final. Marat saved it with a beautiful lob to stay alive and closed the breaker in the 14th point to send the match into a decider after three hours and eight minutes. Safin repelled two break chances in game three and jumped into a 4-2 advantage after a costly double fault from Roger, extending the lead with a hold in the next game.
Serving for the triumph at 5-3, Marat squandered two match points, and Roger broke back to prolong this marvelous match and deliver the crowd more memorable moments. The Swiss had to save another match point on his serve in game ten and an additional two at 6-7, refusing to surrender until the very end and giving his everything to emerge at the top. Safin held with ease to gain an 8-7 advantage and forced Roger to serve to stay in the match once again. Federer repelled the sixth match point with an ace, but the seventh proved to be lethal for him, stumbling while chasing the ball and allowing Marat to finish the job with a forehand winner that propelled him into the final.