Roger Federer is through to his first final of the year! But boy was it tough! What started out as a routine match quickly changed into a fight till the very last minute. In the end, 3 factors helped our champ: 1. His experience 2. His serve 3. A bit of luck.
The first set gave no indications of the fight that was going to unfurl on the Pat Rafter Arena. Chardy looked nervous and rattled, Roger looked smooth and composed. He got the early break and quickly consolidated. Though Chardy started to settle in towards the end, Roger wrapped it up in 27 minutes, 6-3. He had problems with his first serves but won points when they went in. Roger offered no break points. He also returned relatively well compared to Chardy who barely returned anything. Here are the stats for set 1.Onto set 2. Chardy began to overcome his initial awe of the match while Roger’s level started to dip. Chardy’s groundstrokes started to fire, he found his rhythm and his forehand started to click. Meanwhile, Roger’s movement began to look sluggish, his returns became more error prone and he started to get irritable which led to him losing focus. Chardy kept pushing and almost every service game of Roger’s went to 0-30, 15-30 or 30 all. What kept getting the Maestro out of trouble was his fantastic serve. It wasn’t the speech so much as pinpoint accuracy. The Swiss hit 9 aces in this set alone which prevented him from ever facing a break point despite how close he looked in most service games. Chardy held his serve much more easily and in the end neither man got any break point opportunities which led to the inevitable tie-break. Chardy played a wonderful tie-break while Roger’s struggles continued. The Frenchman took the tie-break 7-3 and the set.
Here are the stats which tell the story pretty clearly. Chardy outperformed Roger in most departments but though Chardy served well, Roger served even better and it was a key factor in him not getting broken. He produced the best serves at crucial points in the set to keep him safe.Off we went into set 3 and the momentum was very much with the Frenchman. Roger served first and was immediately in trouble and offered a break point to Chardy at 30-40. It was actually going to be the only break point opportunity Roger provided to Chardy in the entire match. Again his serve came to the rescue to get him out of the hole and hold. Chardy had a nice service game to get the score to 1 all. In Roger’s next service game, he lost the first point to a backhand error. After a service winner to get to 15 all, he served a double fault to push the score to 15-30. And then, once more his serves saved him; he hit three aces in a row to take the game and hold 2-1*.
Chardy held comfortably again moving Roger from side to side to get the score line to 2 all. Roger looked annoyed at himself and was pushed to deuce in his next service match before firing two more consecutive aces to hold to 3-2*. After another easy hold from Chardy to level the scores at 3 all, Roger finally had an easy hold as well, after a long time; the score was 4-3*. And then something inexplicable happened. Chardy either lost focus or got overwhelmed with the prospect of defeating Roger. Whatever the cause, after getting in a winner to go up 15-0, he served a double fault and committed 2 forehand errors to give the Swiss 2 break point opportunities at 15-40. Roger needed only one because Chardy double-faulted again on break point. All of a sudden, the score was 5*-3 with Roger to serve for the match. Cool and calm, Roger hit a service winner, followed by a forehand winner and then ace # 19 followed by ace # 20 to hold to love and win the game, set, match 6-3, 6-7(3-7), 6-3 in 1 hour and 56 minutes.
Roger didn’t return that well but what saved him were his 8 aces in the set. Meanwhile, Chardy’s first serves really let him down with only 36% going in; and the 2 double faults in the penultimate game certainly did not help. Here are the set 3 stats.Roger had to fight hard both at a physical and a mental level. It was apparently the hottest day in Brisbane in 70 years and when Roger’s shirts are soaked through you know it must be a hot and humid day. The sun was also moving across the court creating awkward shadows. All this is not to be used as an excuse for they applied to both players. It just seemed to affect Roger more. Or perhaps he was irritated by his own performance level and then these factors just exacerbated his annoyance. I think the fact that he had never played Chardy before presented problems for him. Once Chardy settled into his groove Roger had to keep trying to figure out ways to put him under the pressure while committing errors himself. He might have also had to deal with demons of 2013 coming back to haunt him mentally.
All this led to a fight to the finish and I for one was expecting it to go to another tie-break in the end. But at the very last minute, Chardy blinked; at the very last minute Roger pounced. And that’s what separates the champions from the rest. Hopefully he can summon up this extra gear once more for tomorrow. His opponent is his long time rival, Aussie player Lleyton Hewitt. They are both 32 years old, both Grand Slam Champions and former world #1s. They have met 26 times with the H2H of 18-8 in favor of the Swiss. But they have never met in a final in Australia. The chance to win a title on home soil defeating a fierce rival, that too, possibly the best player in history – Hewitt will certainly not be short on motivation.
Roger will need to bring intensity, grit, aggression and be prepared to play for hours because Lleyton will fight till the sun goes down. I can’t call this one at all. It depends on how well Roger has recovered physically and mentally from this match and also from his doubles match. It also depends on day form and who wants it more. All I can say is, just to be safe Roger, pack in a few extra aces, they might come in handy just when you need them most. Tune in at 3:30pm local time for what is sure to be a tense battle.
I will sign off on a more positive note. Roger reaching the final, while using the new racquet, has already exceeded my modest expectations. I am thrilled that he has reached his 114th career final and won his 926th match out of the 1,141 career matches he has played. If he gets his 78th title tomorrow that will be amazing. But if not, I am still mighty pleased and proud of our champ for a great beginning to the year. There is more to come, I can feel it! Allez!