Roger Federer came through Round 2 in Basel and is now in the QFs. He was the only Swiss player to get through even the first round and the home crowd fervently supported their last man standing. Roger reached the QFs in three sets defeating Denis Istomin for the 5th straight time. But Istomin pushed Federer more than he had in the past and was certainly the better player at the beginning of the match.
Set 1 started with Roger serving first and serving well, much better than the round 1 match. Denis served very well too and the two held serve quite easily to go up to 2 all, with Denis being helped by some errors from Roger in his service games. Then, suddenly serving to go up 3*-2, Roger lost his concentration and gave Istomin 2 break points, the second one with a double fault. Roger saved the first but put a cross-court forehand into the net to get broken and stun the crowd into silence. Denis then consolidated with a love hold by making sure he served well and let Roger commit errors all over the place to take the lead 4-2*.
Roger’s next service game was quite tight but he held to keep the gap at 1 break only. The Swiss pushed Istomin hard in the next game and even got a break point but failed to convert. As he hit a wide cross-court forehand at game point Roger wryly smiled to himself muttering under his breath and it was 5-3* in favor of the Uzbek. Roger nonetheless hung on tight and forced Istomin to serve it out. As Denis served for the set Roger kept up his aggressive play and got two more break point opportunities only to lose them again and the Uzbek took the first set 6-4 in 35 minutes. Roger looked annoyed and upset; he talked to himself a few times and shook his head. I was worried how he would handle being a set down. Here are the stats. Onto the second set and Roger changed out of his usual RF shirt into a generic grey Nike one which was deemed ugly by the majority of my twitter timeline. Nonetheless, he came out positive in his first game and with some deft touches and good serving, held to go up 1-0*. Denis held comfortably too as did Roger again and the score was 2-1*. In Istomin’s next game however the Swiss pushed and got a break point but couldn’t convert as Denis somehow held serve in the longest game of the match at that point. Roger held his next game comfortably and we even got an ‘Allez!’ when he hit a fantastic forehand to go up 40-15.
The Swiss then pushed Denis again in his very next service game. Istomin made a few errors and Roger stepped up his game with a gorgeous cross-court forehand winner that almost had a Rafa-esque lasso follow-through. He followed that up with a beautiful backhand down the line and a loud roar and a fistpump to go up 15-40. A final error from Denis and Roger got the break; the score was 4*-2 with Roger to serve. By then Roger had gained confidence and it showed. He held quickly to go up 5-2* and the Uzbek had to serve to stay in the set. Istomin refused to go away and held serve to force the Maestro to serve for the set himself. Thankfully, without too much drama, Roger sealed the set, 6-3 in 34 minutes and the ‘ugly’ shirt was hailed as lucky by one and all ;). Here are the stats.The third set started off with a massive hold by Istomin where he saved 2 break points before finally getting on the scoreboard at 1-0*. I thought Roger would have a ton of confidence and focus coming into the set but right away he was in trouble and three break points down at 0-40 with a rare failed smash. He saved all three and got to deuce twice before Istomin had another break point opportunity. The Swiss saved that and still was pushed to deuce two more times before finally holding in his longest service game of the match. We were at 1 all. I had a feeling during that game that whoever won it would get the momentum and might take the match so you can imagine how relieved I was when Roger held.
Immediately after that difficult hold Roger made sure Denis was put under pressure and soon had 3 break points. Denis saved one but Roger took the next and it was 2*-1 with Roger to serve. Federer consolidated to love and if you blinked, you probably missed it. In Denis’ next game, Roger had a break point again which Denis saved. But an error from the Uzbek gave Roger another chance and a failed Istomin volley helped Roger get a double break. The Swiss was up 4*-1. By then Roger was totally in his groove and yet another lightning quick love hold meant Denis had to serve to stay in the match at 1*-5. Istomin made sure Roger didn’t get a breadstick and was forced to serve for the match. But the writing was on the wall already and the Swiss served it out without much fuss to take the set and the match, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in 1 hour and 51 minutes. Here are the stats for the match.Overall, similar to the first match, Roger took his time to get going. The difference was Istomin was a more formidable opponent than Mannarino and as such it was a much tougher match. Istomin rightly deserved that first set while Roger rightly deserved the second. The third set was tense only in the first two games but after that it was a one-sided affair with the Swiss looking near his natural sublime self and the Uzbek wilting away. Roger’s serving was a bit better than the first match but it should ideally be higher. Again he didn’t convert too many of the break points, but like the first match, he converted at crucial times. Even more importantly he had a positive mind set and body language all throughout despite losing the first set. I think that was key in not only winning the second set but also hanging tough at the beginning of the third. Post-match he said the following:
I stared poorly, making too many errors, especially on the forehand, I was risking too much and it was not paying off. I had to cut that risk and was a bit lucky to win. I started fighting back and got better as the match went on. I’m happy that I was able to turn it around, I needed a match like this.
He will face the winner of Dolgopolov vs. Dimitrov in the QFs and I don’t have a preference for either. His H2H with Dolgopolov is 1-0 and he’s never faced Dimitrov, the Bulgarian who seems to have modeled his game similar to the Maestro. I know this meeting is highly anticipated by most but not by me. I would rather see this match-up when Federer is back to his best. Right now I don’t think this meeting will illustrate the full potential of how interesting it might be. Besides, at this point I am too focused on Roger himself. The Istomin match should have been easy on paper but I knew it would be tough due to Roger’s recent form. The result of the match was decided by Roger himself and that he was able to press hard at the big points. The same will happen in his next match no matter who he faces. It will be up to Roger. So far, the signs have been good so fingers crossed! Keep your focus champ! Allez!