Roger Federer had his chances, including a match point at 5-4 in the third set, but in the end it just wasn’t to be as he fell to Nikoloz Basilashvili, 3-6, 6-1, 7-5, in the Doha quarterfinals on Thursday.
It was Federer’s first event back after just over 13 months out due to a right knee injury.
“Just to play him means so much to me,” Basilashvili said afterwards. “I’m very happy that he’s come back and is playing again, and for sure to win against him is a dream come true for me.
“He was always my idol, so I’m extremely happy.”
After making a winning return to the tour on Wednesday night with a thrilling 7-6 (8), 3-6, 7-5 win over No. 28 Dan Evans, it looked like Federer would continue his run as he breezed to a 6-3 first set against No. 42 Basilashvili in 37 minutes, hitting seven aces to no double faults in that opening frame.
But Basilashvili—a former Top 20 player, going as high as No. 16 in the world in 2019—found his range in the second set, ripping his trademark backhand to perfection to take it 6-1 after just 26 minutes.
The decider could have gone either way. First, Basilashvili had three break points with Federer serving at 3-all—then, Federer had a match point with Basilashvili serving 4-5, 30-40, missing a backhand passing shot into the net off of a tricky inside-out forehand approach shot from Basilashvili.
But once the Georgian escaped that match point there was no stopping him, as he won the last three games of the match, sealing the one-hour, 50-minute victory with one last backhand winner.
“For me and for many people for sure, he’s the best player of all time in my opinion, and off-court he’s an unbelievable person, too,” Basilashvili told the crowd. “It means a lot to be in the semifinals.”
Federer's match fitness will be put on hold, after announcing on social media he was pulling out of Dubai in favor of sticking with training. The 39-year-old felt he got enough out of his initial test run and was upbeat afterwards.
"I'm happy how I played today. I'm happy how I did yesterday," Federer told ATPTour.com. "I'm happy I [am] back on the tour. I'm pleased I came here to Doha. So it's really, really a positive return for me."
Awaiting Basilashvili in the semis is American Taylor Fritz, who upset No. 4 seed Denis Shapovalov earlier in the day, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. Fritz won the pair's only meeting in Chengdu, China in 2017, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
Basilashvili has come out of a major slump this week. He came in with a 2-13 record since the restart last summer, the only two wins coming against players who weren't even in the Top 200, in Antalya, Turkey in January. He's now won three matches in a row for the first time since July 2019.
And his win over No. 6 Federer is the third-best win of his career, after beating No. 4 Juan Martin del Potro in the 2018 Beijing final and No. 5 Alexander Zverev in the 2019 Hamburg semifinals.