Roger Federer faced off against wildcard Malek Jaziri, ranked 128 in the world, in his first round match at Dubai. Jaziri did very well from the start, keeping calm, saving early break points and holding serve. Roger meanwhile had multiple love-hold games but wasn’t returning well at all resulting in no breaks of serve on either side as the set raced to 5-all. Then serving to go up 6-5, Roger lost his concentration and his serve and incredulously got broken. Jaziri kept cool under pressure and served it out to take the first set 7-5. Was it the wind swirling around the stadium that caused this aberration? Was it that-which-we-do-not-mention (the back injury)? Fans were left scratching their heads nervously as Federer began the 2nd set.
Our champ seemed a lot more focused right from the get-go and after holding his own serve, had break point on Jaziri’s service game. And unfortunately for the Tunisian, he committed his first double-fault at the worst moment possible letting Federer go up 2-0. Another speedy hold later Jaziri was broken again by Roger who was now up 4-0. The Swiss held serve again and then broke Jaziri one more time to take his first bagel set of the year, 6-0 in 23 minutes. We were now square at 1 set each. Interestingly Roger’s first serve percentage was a miserable 47% in this set but he more than made up for it by returning much better, winning 66% of the total return points compared to 33% in the 1st set.
Federer was on serve beginning of the 3rd set which he held comfortably. Jaziri seemed to come back with renewed purpose as he held to love to go up 1-all. Roger’s next service game was a bit shaky as he offered Jaziri one more break point which in the end was the last one that Jaziri would receive in the match. Jaziri didn’t convert and soon Roger was up 2-1, disaster was avoided. From then on, there was no looking back for the Maestro. Jaziri managed to win one more game to take the score to 2 all but then the FedExpress just rolled through the match, ultimately winning the set 6-2. It took the Swiss 1 hour 30 minutes to close out the match with a final score line of 5-7, 6-0, 6-2. Here are the stats.So what are the take-aways from today’s match? Well a lot or nothing depending on how you look at it. One can be forgiven at this point for saying, “well he was so up and down in this match we don’t know if there is any injury or something else that’s bothering him, but then he combined bad play with flashes of brilliance, so who knows what form he will show up in for the next match.” I however, am choosing to look at it as a match Roger used to find his footing in this tournament. I thought he definitely played progressively better as the match went on. I don’t think his movement is where it should be and his serves are still definitely off. He didn’t look as stiff as in his last match at Rotterdam but not up to his usual silent-but-deadly style either. He hasn’t had much practice time and the courts play a bit different at night anyway. Then there were the gusts of wind to handle and an unknown opponent on the other side of the net. I am not trying to make excuses here but simply stating that Roger seemed to use the first set to figure out his groove before settling in for sets 2 and 3.
Frankly speaking, his current level of play might not be enough for even Berdych or Tsonga, let alone a supremely confident Djokovic. But I get the feeling that Roger will get better with each match; unless his back suddenly gives out of course. Otherwise, he gets a day off tomorrow to work on some areas and will have a chance to come back fresh and without having that pressure of not crashing out in the first round. He will face off against the winner of Granollers vs. Montanes in the next round, which should be a straightforward match, at least on paper. Here’s hoping that Roger follows the script and saves us all a few extra grey hairs in the process. Allez Federer!