These are taxing times for a Roger Federer fan. He’s up, he’s down, with flashy brilliance mixed with shanks off both the forehand and the backhand. In his matches against Tipsarevic and then Ferrer, his 1st serves were disastrous. With Delpo, just like in the finals at Basel, he served pretty well with 12 aces, it’s the rest of his game that crumbled at the oddest of times.
The first was very tight except that Roger failed to convert 3 break points in a row in Delpo’s first game. This came back to haunt him for Delpo didn’t offer any more chances in the first set and it went to 6-6. Both were playing some scintillating tennis till then, including a rally that had a tweener (by Delpo no less!), lobs, smashes and volleys all rolled in one. But as the tie break got underway, the wheels just came off the Federer wagon. Roger has one of the best tie break career records but just like in the Basel final, he faltered and the set went to Delpo 7-6(3).
Things picked up for Roger right away when he broke Delpo’s opening game in the second set. He then held onto his serve for the remainder of the set, taking it 6-4. I thought that Roger had found his momentum but right at the beginning of the third set, out of nowhere, Delpo broke Roger to gain a 3-0 lead. This was the only break Roger had offered in the entire match and Delpo pounced on it. Roger wasn’t able to break Juan Martin again and to his credit, Delpo served brilliantly. His 1st serve was 77% and he got 94% of those points along with 80% off his second serves. At 5-3, Juan Martin held his nerve and served it out to take the set and the match 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-3 in 2 hours and 1 minute.
It was Federer’s first loss in the World Tour Finals since 2009, ending a 12-match winning streak. He went undefeated in winning the last two titles and had won his first two group-stage matches this year. It’s also the first time a player has beaten Federer in two straight indoor tournaments since Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. Federer said,
“Good effort (from) his side to get me twice in a row now, I hoped I didn’t have to lose against him again today.”
Roger’s H2H against Delpo became 13-4 with 2 of those 4 losses coming in the span of two weeks. When asked in the post match presser about what was difficult with his matchup against Del Potro, Roger answered insightfully, saying he doesn’t have that much of a problem with Delpo’s game, and the records say that. Rather he’s more concerned with his own serve and his inability lately to convert break points. I agree with Roger’s assessment too. It’s not like he didn’t have any chances, he had more than Del Potro. But his clutch game was off. He just seems a bit rusty these days and I think this ridiculously long year is getting to him. Regardless, he will need to put this performance out of his mind and be fresh for the SFs.
A by-product of Roger losing was it automatically locked out Ferrer from qualifying in the SFs and the Tipsarevic v. Ferrer match became a dead rubber. In my opinion it’s unfortunate Ferrer didn’t have a chance, he’s had an amazing season and I almost feel like he deserved a spot. But then Delpo was brilliant too so I guess it wasn’t meant to be. Perhaps the fact that he was now only playing for pride and money got to David and he started off against Tipsarevic very poorly. He smashed rackets as Tipsarevic broke him 3 times in the opening set. Even though he broke Janko twice, the Serb took the first set, 6-4. Ferrer was back on track however in the second set, and broke twice to take it 6-3. The final set was quite a disaster for Tipsarevic as he struggled with both his serves and returns and was broken 3 times to give up the set at 1-6. Ferrer won the match 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 and secured his place as 3# in the group.
With Ferrer winning, this meant that Roger topped his group and will thus face #2 of Group A, Andy Murray in the SFs. But before that, Delpo and Nole will play in the first SF of the day. It shouldn’t be too difficult for Novak if we go by their H2Hs and recent matches at the USO and Cincy. What’s more, Novak has played better and better in each of his matches the past few days. However, Delpo is having a great indoor season of his own and if he gets his serves in, he’ll be near impossible to beat. What is true though is that being such a big guy he doesn’t move the fastest on court and you can bet a part of Novak’s game plan will be to keep Delpo moving. My prediction is Nole in 3 sets but I’d love to be wrong and see Novak getting defeated for once this hard court season (besides Paris Bercy, but does that even count?).
In the last SF, Roger and Andy will square off. The H2Hs and their latest clashes all suggest that Murray should win. Obviously Roger has to play extremely well in front of a highly partisan crowd to have a chance. If I were to look for hope I would point to two factors for Roger. #1 Roger usually plays better in the later stages of the tournament and he really cares about the World Tour Finals. He will give everything he has. #2. Andy hasn’t looked at his imperious best either so perhaps he will inadvertently provide a window of opportunity to Roger.
When Roger plays his best tennis indoors, he’s untouchable and even in this tournament, some of the shots he’s hit have been downright sublime. The variety and improvisation he can make on the go is nothing short of genius. We’ll see how much of that Roger turns up and keep our fingers crossed that Murray will wear his banana shorts and white shirt and fly off the handle like he did in the match against Novak. I can’t call this one but obviously my heart says Federer so I’ll end it at that (fingers crossed!).