BREAKING NEWS: Roger Federer has cut off his gorgeous hair and the Fed-Curls are no more, RIP. Gone are the curls on the back and the waves on the front and fans shall not be able to see the Maestro tuck his hair back in place as he waits for his opponent’s serve. Reactions ranged from outrage, to those who thought they could learn to love it, with a smaller minority actually liking the change. Despite the fact that this was to be Roger’s first match after the shockingly early exit in Madrid, the debates and discussions were focused his locks, which were the shortest they had been in at least 12 years.
The buzz continued as the Swiss entered the arena for his battle with Starace, with even the commentators joining in. At that point I was reminded of a quote by one of my favorite TV characters ever: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” Now I’m sure Roger didn’t particularly dislike the hair conversation; nonetheless he took only 51 minutes of our time to change it completely.
Federer opened with a 59 second love hold and that set the trend for the match. In the first match at Madrid, Roger played it safe, kept well inside the lines and with generally good, albeit uninspired defense. I had given his performance a B+. What I had really wanted to see that day is what I got a week later in Rome: Roger at his most ruthless best, a combination of efficiency, aggression, skill and talent, so much talent. To be fair, Starace didn’t play a particularly bad match either, he kept his unforced errors down to 9 and had more winners, 13 to be precise. But when your opponent’s stats are 35 winners to only 8 unforced errors, there isn’t much you can do. It’s been a while since Roger has played so well. I initially thought it was on par with the Istomin match at Indian Wells. However, the stats beg to differ and considering this is his least favorite surface plus coming after Madrid, I now think I would have to place this match at the top of the list.
The first set took only 19 minutes and the second, 32, and he was in control that entire time. That loss to Nishikori seems to have galvanized him to a level I hadn’t seen so far this year. Even in practice sessions he seemed intense and hitting the ball hard. I think he used this match to show how perilous it is to write him off. Of course, in recent times, consistency has been a problem, with Roger not being able to sustain a high level for an entire tournament. It’s very important right now to keep his focus for it’s only going to get tougher the deeper he gets into the tournament. He doesn’t have a cakewalk draw and up next is maybe Simon, who always gives him trouble; his H2H is an even 2-2. Or it could be Youzhny who I would prefer much more since the match-up works well for Roger; H2H of 14-0. The Russian has only managed to take 3 sets across all those meetings. But even with Youzhny he needs to be careful; Mikhail took out Tommy Haas who is in the form of his life so Youzhny is having quite a nice little run here too.
But none of this will matter if THIS Federer shows up on court. What made me giddy was not just that he won, but he did so with his signature style and flair. For anyone who might have forgotten how beautiful tennis can be, he unfolded his full arsenal of shots. A drop shot here, a volley there, a lighting fast forehand cross-court or those butterfly-like single-handed backhands that land perfectly nestled in the far corner. He came to the net 20 times and won 15 of them. His first serves were in 75 % of the time and he won 83% of those points while also winning 80% of the second serve points. And the cherry on top, he converted 4 out of 8 breakpoints, which is a special gift for us Federer fans, we’re not used to the 50% success rates!
It was a fantastic match in every way and it gave me great joy to see him take the court with confidence and a clear mindset. He trusted his instincts, never questioned his plan and executed it beautifully. I hope we continue to see this Federer in the days to come; we’ve been deprived of those silent fist-pumps and the roars of ‘Come On!’ long enough.