It’s been 26 days since we last saw Roger Federer; since that fateful day when he bowed out of Indian Wells and (temporarily) the ATP Tour. As a Federer fan it’s been loooooong and painful. Tennis doesn’t seem the same without our hero. On a personal note, it has been a scary experience because I’ve realized that my creativity and verve in writing my blog posts seem tied to the Maestro. If he doesn’t play tennis, then I (mostly) tune out the sport which is indeed cause for concern with regards to my future as a tennis blogger. But, I still have some time left to figure out how to answer these psychological questions (at least till the 2016 Rio Olympics right?) and in the meantime I can always say that my blog is dedicated to Roger rather than tennis so I have every right to align my schedule with his hiatus.
Post Australian Open Roger hasn’t had a very good year and by the time he was done with Indian Wells I was quite exhausted with tension and anxiety. Just like Roger, I think I too needed this time to get away from tennis and come back fresh and rejuvenated; hence the radio silence on this blog. There is still some time to go before Roger comes out of his self-imposed (and much needed) break. But I thought I’d write a post gathering bits of tennis news that have happened in the meantime. So in no particular order, here we go.
- Welcome to Miami… er… hello? Anyone there?
Apparently there was a Masters tournament right after Indian Wells – The Sony Open in Miami kicked off this year with Roger Federer missing in the line-up for the first time in 14 years. We knew this would happen when Roger announced his 2013 schedule last year but then came the double whammy of Rafa pulling out too. All of a sudden, Miami gave us the opportunity to view the ATP without Roger or Rafa – and the results weren’t pretty.
We had seen the Rogers Cup and Paris Bercy last year without these two but somehow it didn’t have the same impact because Rafa was still out injured and Roger only withdrew right before they were scheduled to start. But this year Miami felt extra empty because, well Roger had made a conscious decision in advance to axe it and Rafa, despite being back on tour, decided to sacrifice his points from last year and withdraw to rest up for his precious clay season. This loss in star power was reflected in ticket sales too which were down from last year.
To make matters worse for Miami, the reigning champion and world #1 Novak Djokovic crashed out in the QFs to an-almost 35 year old Tommy Haas. In my opinion Haas’ brilliant run made the tournament salvageable. He took out Novak and then Gilles for good measure before almost taking out eventual runner-up Ferrer. A week after losing in the SFs, he turned 35 years old and moved up the ranks to #14. That’s ahead of Raonic, Nishikori, Wawrinka, Monaco, Seppi and Querrey – let that sink in folks. I have always resented the ‘weak era’ argument put forth by some naysayers of Federer and Tommy’s extraordinary run just showed how well a #2 player in the ‘weak era’ can still play the game. Tommy won his matches through accurate serving, that magnificent single-handed backhand and his all-court game which allowed him to adapt to the conditions so much better than his younger opponents. Perhaps it was only fitting that it required a fellow thirty-something to take him out.
The final between Andy Murray and David Ferrer was tedious and littered with unforced errors and consecutive breaks of serve. Given Ferrer’s level of play it should’ve been a cakewalk for Murray except Andy seemed to try his best to make sure David didn’t feel alone in his misery out there. It was a final that Ferrer and most tennis fans would rather forget.
One last observation about Miami before I move on: I think it is very possible that the tournament won’t see Roger or Rafa again in the future. For Roger, I believe this long break between Indian Wells and the clay season will become permanent giving him enough time to regroup for the clay season. The same reasoning could be applied to Rafa as well. This is also one of the few events where neither has fared well by their lofty standards. Roger won Miami (against Rafa) in 2005 and then again in 2006; since then however he hasn’t even made it to the finals. Rafa has been in 3 finals but amazingly never won – in fact no Spaniard ever has. Another interesting fact to note is that the Miami tournament is owned and operated by IMG. Roger and then (6 months later) Rafa both severed ties with IMG Agency and decided to go off on their own to market and manage their careers themselves. In Roger’s case there was also that fiasco with the IMG owned Mubadala exhibition in Abu Dhabi earlier this year – coincidentally, Rafa pulled out of that exho as well so neither played.
Based on the above, I think the Miami residents will have to get used to the idea of the tourney never featuring either of these two superstars in the future. It is a pity especially considering the nostalgia factor this tourney has for Fedal fans. Miami is the birthplace of this rivalry; their first two matches were played here, in 2004 and then 2005. At the end of the day though, if it means we get a fresh, healthy Roger in the clay season, I’m all for him skipping a tournament he hasn’t enjoyed for quite some time.
- Roger lost the #2 ranking and tumbled all the way down to … to…. #3
With Roger pulling out of Miami and Andy subsequently winning it, Federer dropped to #3 in the world. While that brought an end to his latest run as a top two player in the ATP, it is surely not the end of the world; #3 is nothing to laugh at, just ask the current world #1 who held that position for a long time indeed. Federer has now been in the top two of the ATP for a record total of 415 weeks, 302 of which were as #1. Not only that, but with this drop, it is the first time in 9 years, 4 months and 14 days that neither Roger nor Rafa has been in the top 2. You have to go back all the way to November 2003 when Roger first reached the #2 ranking. Just goes to show how strong the Fedal domination was, lasting almost a decade at the top.
I was saddened about the drop but not overly so. I believe Roger himself stated that his goals are to win more titles and increase his longevity rather than protect the rankings and at this stage in his career I fully support this notion. What I am more worried about is how this affects future draws. As #3 Roger will no longer be insulated against facing any of the other 3. Truth be told, at the moment I am more concerned about Rafa’s rankings than Roger’s. Rafa is currently ranked #5 but I’m wishing and praying for him to pull himself up back up to #4. If that happens we can be sure that (as #3) Roger won’t have to deal with Nadal on clay until they both reach the finals; Rafa would then become Novak or Andy’s problem first. However this depends not only on Rafa making a clean sweep of all the clay tourneys (entirely possible) but also hoping that Ferrer performs rather badly all throughout. Thus it seems unlikely that Rafa will reach #4 before Roland Garros which leads me to imagine the horror scenario of Roger having to face Rafa and Novak in the QFs and SFs. *sigh* Maybe for once the draw gods will be good to us… we can only hope.
- Mo’ Money, No Problems… The US Open hikes up its prize money
Despite being on his break Roger, as the President of the ATP Players Council, took part in the prize money negotiations via phone with the United States Tennis Association (USTA). This ultimately led to the announcement of a massive bump of the US Open prize money to $50 million by 2017. To quote the Maestro,
“The [USTA] approached our concerns with a true spirit of partnership, and as president of the ATP Player Council I am personally grateful for their support. The U.S. Open is very special, and we all look forward to great competition at Flushing Meadows later this year, and in the years yet to come.”
All in a day’s work for FedEx. This just reiterated to me that as far as tennis goes, it really is Federer’s world. Even when he’s not playing, he is somehow omnipresent one way or another – truly the sport’s biggest ambassador.
- Davis Cup semi-finalists are now in place
The most note-worthy tennis to happen post Miami was the Davis Cup QFs. Serbia and the Czech Republic met expectations and pulled through. France vs. Argentina was always going to be tight though most would’ve tipped the balance in France’s favour. Instead, it took 5 rubbers before Argentina finally came through with the surprise hero being Carlos Berlocq who defeated Gilles Simon in the deciding rubber in 4 sets. Canada vs. Italy was also fought well but Canada ultimately won led by the young and talented Milos Raonic. The most memorable match was probably the Bryan brothers losing to Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac which went the distance with the Serbians pulling out a win at 15-13 in the final set. The most memorable incident however was most definitely Djokovic hurting his ankle – the injury made me cringe just watching it and you could tell how worried Novak was when he broke down at a press conference later on. As of now, it is not known whether he will be fit to play in Monte Carlo. I’m not a fan of Novak but I wouldn’t wish injury on any player so sending him best wishes and positive vibes for a speedy recovery.
That’s it for now; hopefully we will have more updates from Roger soon. He recently posted a facebook update after ‘a hard workout’. It was good to see him happy and smiling and back at practice – on clay! Here’s hoping the back has fully healed by now. 26 days down, 26 days left to go, we’re at the midpoint! I can finally see the light at the end of tunnel ;). See you in Madrid champ!