I don’t know what to write for this final Australian Open post. Roger Federer lost a 5-setter in the SFs to Andy Murray 4-6, 7-6(7-5), 3-6, 7-6(7-2), 2-6. Do I end right there? I am feeling down but not for the loss in particular, because Roger fought valiantly till the end. In fact, this was the first time in his illustrious career that he ever had to play 2 back to back 5-setters and I think that was tougher than any of us including Federer might have imagined. But unlike last year when he lost to Andy in straight sets the two times he played him (i.e. The Olympics and Shanghai), yesterday the Swiss was determined not to roll over, when perhaps, he had a better justification for it than last year due to the long QF he played two nights prior.
He was down right from the start and was forever chasing Murray who was fresh and in peak form with excellent serves. Roger’s serve meanwhile totally failed him and his bad service games continued from the QF. Except for the 2nd set when the first serve % was 75%, for sets 1, 3, 4 and 5 they were 58%, 54%, 58% and 54%. Even more shocking, his second serve, usually one of the most reliable on tour, failed him even more. For the overall match his second serve points won was a measly 42% but in sets 3 and 5 it fell to 18% and 25% respectively. Furthermore, it took him till the 4th set to finally break Andy and then he got broken back twice and let Andy serve for the match at 6-5. But miracles do happen when Federer is on court and he broke back, took the set to a tie-break and won that too. I had thought that would fuel his drive to take the 5th but in the end his energy level dipped and Andy honed in and took the set and the match. Here are the stats.I am still unsure why after serving so beautifully in the first 4 matches, his serves dropped so sharply. Was it a matter of fatigue? An injury? Sudden weather changes? We know it was getting much colder at night on the courts as the tournament got deeper. While Murray’s camp created a hullabaloo about their charge not getting any night matches, I think (despite us fans loving the pink outfit) Roger would have preferred day matches. The schedule is healthier than going to bed at 4 am and he can handle the heat. Regardless, something happened to the gorgeous serves he used to kill off Paire, Davydenko and especially Tomic and Raonic; in that Round 4 match, Federer was godlike. I hope it’s not any injury and I’m sure this is something his team will work on before the next tournament in Rotterdam.
Other than his serves, one more aspect stood out for me and it is tied with why I’m feeling down. It was his energy, and I don’t mean stamina, I mean his energy as in, his vibe. Somehow in this match, he didn’t seem positive going in and there were flashes of anger, frustration and negativity all throughout the match. Yes he was playing catch up but I’ve seen him do that before without being so annoyed. It reminded me of the 2011 US Open SF and how upset he was after it. I think he was very right to take time off then and skip the Asian swing because when he came back, he seemed fresh and rested and then promptly won 3 titles in a row. I hope his energy dip was just for this SF match and he will rebound soon and come back rearing to go in 16 days in the Netherlands. That tournament is indoors on hard courts which is his preferred surface. It’s best of 3 and also much closer to home so hopefully that will spur him on and he’ll use these 2 weeks to relax and recover.
I’m probably feeling down because I got the impression that Roger is feeling down, more than normal. Given his form in the first 4 matches perhaps he was as surprised as we were about the dip in the next 2. But upon some inspection I think there are some good take-aways from this tournament for Roger. First I believe he played a better Australian Open this year than 2011 and 2012. Second, his draw was ridiculously tough this year. With a slightly easier draw the results would’ve been different. I cannot help but picture what might have been had he played Ferrer in the SF instead of Murray; I’m absolutely certain we would have seen Roger in the finals tomorrow.
Third, at the end of 2012, my three areas to work on for Roger were his serve, his break-point conversion rate and winning tie-breaks. I’ve discussed my confusion with his serves above. As for converting tie-breaks, we Federer fans have been living with this one for quite a while so looks like that’s here to stay. As for tie-breaks, by his usual standards he didn’t do that well last year; he played 35 tie-breaks and won 20. So far at the Australian Open, he played 6 tie-breaks and won every one of them which I am very thrilled about. And lastly, at least in the first 4, no make that 5 matches, his stamina and movement held up. Still not entirely sure it was a good idea to skip any warm up tournaments though he did reach the SFs this year just like he did last year, so perhaps it didn’t harm him. He definitely seemed to have enjoyed his time-off so I will just accept that Maestro knows best. I think he might even repeat this schedule next year, we’ll see.
And so with a heavy heart the 2013 Australian Open has drawn to a close for me. I think the championship is Novak’s to lose and if he wins, he will be the first to win an Australian Open three times in a row and will tie Agassi and Federer with 4 total wins in Melbourne. But as with almost every time Roger plays these days, he set several records of his own this tournament so I’ll leave you with these:
- This was Roger’s 53rd consecutive appearance at a Grand Slam, placing him 3rd on the all time list.
- It was his 55th appearance at a Grand Slam in total, placing him tied at 8th on the all time list.
- He is yet to be defeated by a player born in the 1990s.
- He won his 250th Grand Slam match with his Round 3 win and ultimately ended up with 252 wins to 38 losses in his career so far. This is a new record breaking his previous one.
- FedEx reached his 35th consecutive Grand Slam QFs. This is an ongoing record held by the Swiss.
- Roger has now reached a total of 39 Grand Slam QFs. He is 2nd on the list, 2 QFs behind Jimmy Connors.
- Last night Roger played in his 10th consecutive Australian Open SF, another record set by him.
- This SF was the Maestro’s 33rd Grand Slam SFs in total which is yet another record by Federer breaking his previous one.
- He has now won a record 68 matches at the Australian Open, again breaking his own record from last year.
Looking at those records I can’t help but feel proud of our champ. We are blessed to live in the Roger Federer era, and I was most proud of him when he took last night’s match to 5 sets from the brink of defeat in the 4th. The loss hurt him, you could tell, as much as it hurt us. I thought even Jim Courier didn’t seem jovial in his interview with Murray, the man missed the classic interviews that Roger provides and every interview with Roger at this Australian Open has just been brilliant! If you haven’t watched them, do so now. Roger seemed calm and cool in his presser and gave full credit to Murray. When asked where this leaves him now, he said,
So I go from here with a good feeling for the year. I didn’t play a tournament leading in, so now obviously I know where my level is at. Also knowing I have even more time to work on my game, work on my fitness this year. It’s something I’m excited about.
We’re excited too Maestro, onwards and upwards, the season has just begun, I’m sure we’ll see much more amazing tennis from the king in the days to come. See you in Rotterdam!