Roger Federer is back! Though the Hamburg tourney started on Monday, Federer received a bye in R1 like the other seeds and therefore didn’t play till today. Over the past few days the buildup got bigger and bigger thanks in part to Roger unveiling a brand new racquet during his practice sessions. For the past 10 years he has been using a 90” sq. in head size. However, his early departure from Wimbledon meant he suddenly had 11 extra days on hand. It seems he used those days to try out a new racquet. We had no idea about a possible racquet change till the first practice picture from Hamburg (posted by Roger himself on facebook) came out. The photo was posted on Monday and for the next two days all we could do was speculate, the theory being that it was possibly a 98″ Blade. Interestingly he made a jump from 85” to 90” right here at Hamburg 11 years ago.
While racquet theories were being flung about, Roger did his best the past two days to keep us distracted by hanging out with his friend Tommy Haas. Both players were at Hamburg without their daughters and wives and they took that opportunity to take their bromance to a new level and continued where they left off at Halle. Some practice sessions together, playing tennis by Inner Alster Lake and swapping jackets are all part of this magical bonding experience ;).
But back to tennis, and soon it was time for Roger’s first match. Roger came on court not only debuting his new 98”(as we suspected!) sq. in racquet but also a whole new outfit which I had thought he wouldn’t unveil till Montreal. I really like the kit and it’s a nice return back to the polos again. Roger faced off against the German player Daniel Brands. It was their first ever meeting. Brands turned 26 today and his birthday gift was a match against Federer in front of the home crowd at Central Court. Full credit to Daniel, he showed no nerves and started off very well. Roger couldn’t convert the 2 break points he had and instead got broken in his next service game to go down 3-5*. Brands served it out to take the set. Roger was definitely the shakier player in that first set with a miserable 48% first serves in, poor returning and quite a few shanks, especially off the backhand. Daniel deserved that set and thinking back, at least he won a set on his birthday 🙂
At the start of the second set Roger looked annoyed with himself and and I had a feeling something would happen very quickly to decide which way this was going to go. He took the first game to love emphatically. This was the first of 4, yes 4, love hold service games from the Maestro in that set. In fact, he even broke Brands at love too. Roger definitely raised the bar this set and won 17 points of all 17 first serves in.
In the third set Roger kept his focus while Daniel’s deserted him. The German went down a double break to Roger and was soon serving to stay in the match at 1*-5 down. Though Brands avoided the breadstick, it was Roger’s match to lose as he served for the win. Realizing this was the moment, Roger visibly got tight and 3 match points came and went before he finally took the match with a massive ace. Federer won the match 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in 1 hour and 25 minutes. While the Swiss seemed nervous in the first set, he was able to turn it around very well and that will give him confidence going into the next match.
He will face 140th ranked Czech player Jan Hajek who pulled off an upset by eliminating Ernests Gulbis in 3 tight sets. Roger has never faced him before so for the second time in 2 days Roger will face a brand new opponent. New opponent, new outfit and a new racquet, maybe it’s all a sign for a fresh start this year, or at least a reboot. We’ll see.
A few points about Roger’s racquet before I sign off. He has confirmed that the head size is indeed 98” which is a big jump from the 90” he used to use. Andy Murray also uses a 98” while Rafa and Novak both use 100”. Roger also suggested that the racquet is a prototype that has been customized by Wilson for him so it’s safe to say it is not just a Blade 98 off the rack (as some of us were suspecting). Given that this was his first match with this racquet, he did very well against a tough opponent. I felt the larger racquet did cause his backhand some problems but his forehand was on fire and he had no issues with his lobs, smashes and pretty drop shots. I’m sure it’s a matter of getting used to it and it might take Hamburg and Gstaad to do it, but better now than at a Masters or the US Open. Less than 24 hours to go till we see our champ again. Allez Roger!