This was one gut-wrenching loss for Roger Federer. In the end the result was decided by 1 horrible service game from Roger and not converting the two break points he got right away on del Potro’s next service game. Those few minutes in the beginning of the third set tilted the match in favor of the Argentine and he never looked back. Delpo defended his Basel title with a 7-6(7-3), 2-6, 6-4 score line.
Call me biased (because I am) but this loss feels like an appropriate loss for the Maestro. If he is to lose, this is how I feel he would/should lose, coming down to just a few points. This Roger has been mostly absent this year post the Australian Open. We’ve seen him in flashes, like the Fedal match at Cincy but I feel this was the first time since January that we saw a sustained level of positive, determined, focused matches throughout an entire tourney till the very last shot. I know he won the title at Halle but I feel his Basel tourney, as far as his tennis is concerned, was of a higher quality.
What made it hurt more was how much he had wanted it. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen him be this vocal on court. Roars of ‘Come On!’ and ‘Allez!’ were peppered throughout the match with the boisterous Basel crowd providing the background score at every opportunity. I thought he was the better player in the first set despite losing it and he was obviously the better player in the second set, displaying aggression, precision and intensity at the highest of levels. Had the first set tie-break gone his way, I think he might have been able to close it out in two sets even because Delpo looked more tired of the two at the end of the second set. That one lapse in concentration with the two double faults ruined the momentum and while he converted break point opportunities at will in the first two sets, he couldn’t in the third, probably because he was so agitated from getting broken in the first place. Nonetheless he got his groove back and even though towards the end, Delpo played perfect service games and pushed Roger, he kept the gap to 1 break only and forced Delpo to serve for it. At the end of this match they were both exactly on 96 points in total which shows how close it was. In fact, If you look at just the stats you won’t know who won the match because they were almost even across the board.When it was over, he looked dejected and even the net hug with Delpo wasn’t as bear-like as they usually are because Roger was probably too angry with himself. As they called out his name to receive the runner-up trophy, he got the longest standing ovation I have ever seen in tennis; I cried :(. Roger looked touched and emotional as the clapping and cheering went around the court in waves. His family was in his box in addition to Mirka and Sev and they all stood and clapped along with everyone else. The crowd showed their love to Basel’s favorite son. Even Delpo joined in the sustained clapping. He had won the title but he knew Roger had won everyone’s hearts. With this loss, Roger failed to seal his qualification for London. But he is within touching distance and needs just one win against the winner of Youzhny (who just won the title in Valencia) vs. Anderson at Paris Bercy in order to get to London. Even if he loses, he still has a great chance provided Raonic does not win Bercy OR Wawrinka/Gasquet fails to reach the SFs. Still, it would just be easier for everyone if Roger simply won his first match; he wouldn’t have to depend on others. He will probably play on Wednesday so we will wait anxiously till then. The match won’t be easy by any means but hopefully the deep run at Basel will give him some much needed confidence. He said,
“I’m a winner type, I don’t take that much confidence from losing matches. I’m happy about the level of play, that it’s getting better, but it’s not in losses where I find my confidence. It’s in wins. I think the four matches previous gave me more than today’s match.”
“It was a pretty high level match overall. Probably my best match of the tournament overall, but it is always difficult to judge when you lose. I did hand the break over to him too easily in the third set, but overall I did well today. I could have maybe won the first set, but in the second set I was getting better and better. It is a pity that I couldn’t have been tougher in the third. He did really well to serve it out. The last few of his service games were very solid. I was happy that after a lot of tough matches, I was able to withstand the challenge physically. The atmosphere was amazing. I really appreciate the crowd support.”
Del Potro described him as “a big inspiration” and said “For me, he has the perfect game. He played much better when he has the chance to play the top guys. Looking forward to Paris and London, he is going to be a really difficult opponent. Then he has the time for recovery to be ready for next season.” He added, “He is also a better person than he is a tennis player. I am very proud to have a good relationship with him.”
I thought Delpo’s words about Roger playing against the top guys were actually quite insightful and I firmly believe that too. While playing a top player is tough, it also pushes you to improve and that is the Roger we saw on court in the final. Delpo egged him on, asked him difficult questions and for 95% of the time, Roger answered emphatically. Oh and as a side note, I also noticed how Delpo has already assumed Roger will be in London ;). Thanks for your faith Juan!
Roger is headed to Paris today and I hope in a few days we can be happy about him qualifying for London. But Paris or no Paris, the Maestro still had time for his traditional pizza party with the ballkids. He started this tradition in 2006 and has done it every year. The fact that he has reached the final all these years certainly helped the cause! This was where a young Roger Federer was a ballboy once and every year, he gives back. That standing ovation makes more sense now doesn’t it? :). See you in Paris Roger! And fingers crossed for London, champ!