Now that we are at the half way mark of the Swiss Indoors at Basel, a quick glance at the draw shows half the seeds are MIA. Seeds 4 (Wawrinka), 5 (Seppi), 7 (Mayer) and 8 (Troicki) were all eliminated in round 1 by much fresher and eager lower ranked players. A lot of tennis had been played this year especially with the Olympics thrown in and mental and physical fatigue can be seen across the board in both the Basel tournament as well as the Valencia Open in Spain. In Valencia, Tsonga, Tipsarevic, Monaco, Isner and Raonic have dropped by the wayside with only Ferrer, Almagro and Cilic left to fight it out.
The early exit of the seeded players have however, allowed for new and interesting match-ups for the QF round at Basel. Two of the 4 matches feature new combinations; the French wildcard Paul-Henri Mathieu faces Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, also nicknamed Baby Fed for the first time in their careers. And Roger Federer squares off against yet another Frenchman, Benoit Paire for the very first time as well.
Seeds 1, 2 and 3 are still intact however, a testament to not only their skills and talents but unbelievable stamina and athleticism for they have also played a lot more this year, going deep into each tournament. The Swiss Maestro at 31 years of age has already played 75 matches this year, winning 66 of them while his opponent Paire, aged 23, has played only 47 matches and won 23 of them. Those extra matches add tremendous milage on the body, mind and soul, many of them also being at the end of tournaments and thus adding extra pressure. The ability to handle the rigours of being on tour 11 months out of the year is crucial to maintaining a level of play that will win championship points at the tail end of the last grueling season.
Federer has been a master of managing his time and schedule over the past 15 years he has been on tour. He knows to listen to his body and apply the brakes when needed. He did so last year after the 2011 US Open heartache and took a 6 week break which saw him fall out of the top 3 rankings for the first time since 2003. He skipped the entire Asian leg and came back fresh as a daisy in Basel which he went on to win. Then as we know, he won in Paris Bercy and the World Tour Finals for a record sixth time in London. Oh and with those three consecutive wins, he climbed back up the rankings and ended the year at #3.
This year he has driven himself a little too much and has already hinted that he will cut back on his tour schedule next year. His fatigue has been obvious in Shanghai and to a certain extent Basel, though Basel being an indoor tournament and in his hometown has probably given him an extra gear; he has been playing better than in the Shanghai Masters. Nonetheless, his body language seems less positive and he has been escaping out of close matches using his guile and experience rather than supreme game play against lesser opponents. My prediction at this point is that he will skip Paris Bercy next week. He will thus lose 1000 points and his #1 ranking after a record 302 weeks and Novak Djokovic will become the new #1 player on November 5th, 2012 and end the year as #1 for the 2nd year running. Interesting to note, this is something that Nadal was not able to do despite being year end #1 in 2008 and 2010. Federer took it back from him in 2009 and Nole ended his phenomenal 2011 as the year end #1.
As a fan I would support this decision for Federer to pull out of Bercy wholeheartedly. The year end #1 ranking s no longer in his hands, even if he wins everything in sight, he still has to hope for Djokovic to perform badly. And Nole has looked to be in almost 2011 form since he failed to defend his title at the US Open. That loss has inspired him to go the distance in finishing the year and he has also learnt to manage his schedule better and stay healthy compared to last year when he was already burnt out post US Open.
For now, the maestro has to get through Paire, and then either Mathieu or Dimitrov (hard to choose between those two), before facing Delpo (who I feel is playing solid enough to beat Gasquet) in the finals. Fed usually plays his best in finals, he lost only 2 of the 8 finals he has reached this year. Hopefully he can beat Delpo and retain his Basel crown before taking a week off to recuperate and come in red hot for the World Tour Finals at the O2 in London.