In his Round 3 match at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Roger Federer wasn’t as sharp against Dodig as he was against Istomin. The sun, the wind and the sudden back issues all made for a troublesome match for our champ. Apparently back problems caused him to cut down his usual hour long practice session into a quick 15 minute one earlier in the day. Right from the beginning of the match you could tell that this wasn’t the same Roger as two days ago. His movement was a bit more sluggish and the shanks were more common. He served more aces but also had a much lower 1st serve percentage compared to his first match. Meanwhile, a determined Dodig showed no fear or awe of the 17-time Grand Slam champion and was aggressive right from the first game. He had 3 break points as the Swiss double faulted but perhaps in all this excitement Ivan lost focus and Roger did what he does best; dug himself out with 5 straight points to hold at 1-0. And that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the match.
Throughout the first set Roger’s serves were up and down with a mix of both sharp aces and also faults. But of course being that it was Federer there were some mighty fine shots on display too; his forehand was truly spectacular as were his drop shots. Roger managed to break Ivan on Ivan’s 4th service game with help from 2 successive double faults by the Croat. This was to become a pattern as Dodig ultimately hit 6 double-faults in the match. Roger had trouble serving out the first set with the windy conditions and the sun getting in his eyes and let 3 set-points slip away before finally closing it out 6-3.
By the beginning of the second set three things had happened to change the rhythm of the match. Federer had gotten the measure of Dodig; considering this was their first ever match, it took a bit of time for the Swiss to figure out his opponent. Second, the damned sun had actually moved across the court more and also third, he was on the other side of the net anyway and could start the set in the shade. This combination led to Federer taking it up a notch and he broke Dodig in his very first service game. Serving at 0-2 and facing a break point once more at 30-40, Ivan double faulted again to give Roger his 2nd break of the set. Things were going well for the Swiss when suddenly while serving at 4-1 he felt a distinct twinge on his back. You could see him slightly stumble after that service motion. Nevertheless he served it out to go up 5-1. Given his back, the best thing that could have happened was for him to break Dodig one last time and close it out so he could get immediate treatment. The Croat seemed to agree and double faulted for the last time on match point. The Maestro won 6-3, 6-1 in 61 minutes and was through to Round 4. For those interested in Roger’s records, this was his 890th match win in a total of 1,091 matches he has played throughout his career. Here are the match stats.In his immediate post-match interview, court-side, he mentioned that he felt something in his back. He then rushed off court and was late for his presser by about 2 hours because he received treatment right after the match. When asked about whether he will be fit enough to play his next match Roger said he hoped he would considering he gets to rest on Tuesday and that hopefully it was nothing serious. The Maestro will face fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka in Round 4.
The situation immediately reminded me of his Round 4 match at last year’s Wimbledon against Xavier Malisse when he had to take a medical time out for his back. But we also know how that tourney ended, with a record tying 7th Wimbledon and a record setting 17th Grand Slam title. As such, I am being cautiously positive here. I think Roger will be able to manage his back pain throughout this tournament. He will do what is necessary in order to get through the next few days because he knows he has a long break coming up. So even if he pushes himself to the limit, he will have plenty of time to recover. Plus I think Roger genuinely wants this title, he’s hungry for it and this ambition and adrenaline will carry him through.
We shall see on Wednesday how it all turns out. In the meantime I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we at least get a Federer-Nadal i.e. Fedal QF. We haven’t seen Fedal matches since… well since the Indian Wells SF last year so it seems we have come full-circle; just a Round earlier. But as long as Wawrinka and Gulbis (Rafa’s Round 4 opponent) get the memo, we should all be set 😉