After 53 days, a minty green Roger Federer finally stepped back on tour with his Round 2 match at the Madrid Open vs. Radek Stepanek. It took him 1 hour and 21 minutes to win in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3. You can take a look at the match stats below:For me, it seemed that Roger was always on neutral, both in terms of his tennis skills as well as attitude and mindset. Sure there were moments when an extra gear was needed and Roger stepped up, but for the most part the match went along at an almost pedestrian pace with no sense of urgency. There were times when he experimented with a few different plays, coming to the net and mixing it up. Overall however, Roger played safe, defensive tennis especially in the first set, not really going for the lines, happy to keep the ball in play and letting Stepanek be his own undoing.
At 5-2 up in the second set, he was about to serve out the match, when for some inexplicable reason Roger’s concentration (and his first serves) just vanished. He swung back and forth from having match points to providing ample break point opportunities to Radek. Despite Radek’s own atrocious play in that game, he finally decided to take Roger up on the offer and broke him. But that was the only peep Roger allowed. Once the game was over, it was as if it hadn’t happened at all. Roger’s focus returned and he broke Radek to win the match.
Other than that loopy last service game, I am happy with his first outing. He didn’t get out of neutral and that is fine by me. Not sure whether it was intentional or not, but the simple fact was, he didn’t need to. It was a good match especially considering that Stepanek is not your typical clay courter. He goes for quick short points with quite a bit of net play and doesn’t let the opponent settle into a rhythm. Roger did well to handle that, always appearing to be in the driver’s seat and in the few long rallies they had he always came out on top.
Based on what I saw today I would have to rate his performance as a B+. He didn’t play spectacular tennis, but it wasn’t bad by any means. B+ is good and that’s what this was, a good showing, especially considering he is coming out of a 7 week hiatus. We should also remember he went off on his break with back issues and I was very relieved to see no lingering concerns. Roger seemed to agree with my conclusions:
I didn’t think I played incredible, but that’s not what I was expecting myself to do here, but I didn’t play bad either. Overall, I’m very happy, because he (Stepanek) has caused me difficulties in the past; today that wasn’t the case and I thought I was pretty much in control.
I think this was a warm-up match and have a feeling he will get better and better as he goes deeper into the tournament. He’ll get more of a feel for the court and get his match intensity back which I felt was a tad lacking – understandable after a long break. Up next, he will face either world # 16 Kei Nishikori or Viktor Troicki, ranked # 44. His H2H with Kei is 1-0 at Basel 2012 and 2-0 with Viktor at Tokyo 2006 and Doha 2011, meaning he hasn’t played either of them on clay. The Maestro gets the day off tomorrow while these two fight it out but regardless of the winner, I would still bet on Roger to come through. Hope this is the beginning of a sweet run of wins! I leave you with his on court interview, a clip of his presser, and a photo of the Federer twins who were adorable, very well behaved and not at all interested in Daddy because their story book was just too fascinating to put down. Cuteness overload indeed!