Roger Federer won his first match in Dubai! He won over the German Benjamin Becker in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4 in 62 minutes. He looked a little rusty at first, especially with his first serves. However, the rest of his game flowed well pretty much from the start. The inside-out forehand in particular was spectacular as were some down the line shots and net points.
Federer won the toss and elected to serve. He was aggressive right from the beginning winning his first point with a volley at the net. Despite being at 15-30 he rattled off an inside-out forehand, a smash and a service winner to take the game. He started to put pressure on Becker straight away and though the German was able to save the first break point, he failed to save the second by committing a double fault of his own and giving the Swiss the early break. Serving to consolidate, Roger hit two double faults of his own but regrouped quickly enough with his forehand and forcing Becker to commit errors. He held to go up 3-0*.
Becker is known to have big first serves and those came to his aid when he finally held his next game to get on the board. Perhaps taking cue from the German, Roger upped the quality of his own service game and held to love with another gorgeous inside-out forehand winner, 2 aces and a service winner. He continued to push Becker playing fast-paced aggressive tennis and soon the Maestro had another break point which he took straight away. Serving for the set at 5*-1 Roger showed no nerves as he hit a service winner, an ace, and took the set point with a beautiful volley. 6-1 in 22 minutes. Here are the stats.On to set 2. Becker served well and held straight away and you could sense this set wouldn’t be as easy as the first. Roger then quickly held too with an ace thrown in. In Becker’s very next service game Roger piled up all the pressure. He pushed him to deuce twice but Becker’s big serves bailed him out. Roger’s next hold was also lightning fast with 3 service winners and a beautiful carved drop shot, and the score was 2 all. Becker then refocused and had a much better service game himself, holding to 15. Roger’s next game included the hot shot of the tournament! Yes, I know it’s only the first day but watch it and you’ll know what I mean. The arena was still buzzing from the excitement as Roger completed his hold and the score was level at 3 games apiece.
That genius shot must have thrown Becker off completely because soon he was down 0-30 on his own serve. Though he fought back to 30 all, an error gave Federer the break point opportunity he was looking for. A short rally later, Becker conceded. Roger had the break and Becker looked resigned to defeat. To add further salt to the wound, Roger consolidated with a 70 second love hold leaving the German to serve to stay in the match at 3*-5. Roger certainly made him work for it and took him to deuce 4 times and each time, Becker’s trusty big serve helped him to hang in there. He finally held, forcing the Swiss to serve it out. Roger got a little tight at the end going from 2 match points to deuce to facing a break point and we were all collectively thinking ‘why Roger, why the late drama?’ However, he took charge in the next point to get back to deuce and soon had another match point which he took with a service winner. 6-1, 6-4 in 62 minutes. Here are the match stats.That tiny hiccup at the very end shows he’s still not 100% confident, though mind you, I think he’s already at 95%. The reason I think this is because unlike 2013 when he looked confused or frustrated as to what to do in these situations, yesterday night, he paused, he took a deep breath and regrouped. The pause was small but it was significant because the Federer of old never needed to pause before. So last year he almost seemed surprised when he wasn’t able to close it out immediately. He’s learned since then, that it’s ok to take an extra second; better an extra ball bounce to calm down than hit errors and give the point away. I think that’s what was missing in many of his matches last year, taking a bit of time to refocus when things went awry, especially at the end of sets and matches. That’s why I feel he’s made progress since then; he’s at 95% and I have a good feeling that going forward, he’ll get to 100% soon. Till then, this pause-before-serving tactic works just fine 😀
Other than the blip at the end, Federer was at his majestic and ruthless best. His first serves gave him trouble at the beginning but I think that was just because he hasn’t played a match in 3 weeks; he shook it off quickly enough. He converted 3 of 4 break points, took 13 out of 16 net points which included some beautiful volleys (Edberg I hope you watched!). He hit more than double the number of winners to unforced errors, 24 to 11, and his serve stats were very good. Here are the highlights and here is a clip of the post-match interview.
I think my 2 take-aways from the match were: 1. Federer’s movement, which was sublime, even while defending. 2. He reminded me of his vintage self in the way he stole time, he’s a time thief. Not only did Vintage Federer take no time in his own service games, he rushed his opponent too. He left the German no time to think/process/strategize/run/reach/breathe/stretch/look anywhere else. One blink and the point was gone. I think that first set was Becker just wondering what tornado had hit him.
Obviously Roger won’t be able to enact the same game plan with such ease in his next match, especially if it’s Stepanek – Stepanek plays Russell today to determine who faces Roger next. Roger’s H2H is 12:2 with Radek, the two losses coming on clay in Rome in 2008 and in Gstaad in 2002(!). The last time they played was in Madrid in 2013 when Roger won in straight sets. In fact, Radek has not won a set against Roger since the Davis Cup match in 2007 which was played on carpet 😉 With Russell, Roger has only played him once before way back in 2007 and the Swiss had won the match. I expect Radek will come through that encounter and then he might push Roger especially being buoyed by his doubles match win with Del Potro from yesterday. We shall see. For today, Roger gets a break as his fellow top 10 players fight it out in Round 1. Roger will play on Wednesday, and I think it will be a day match, but don’t take my word for it.
Before closing out this post I want to add an excerpt from this article by Marianne Bevis which has quotes from Roger describing the tweener. The detailed description he gave reminds us yet again of this man’s spectacular memory. He remembers everything!
“The two shots I had before [the hot dog], the dig I had on the volley, I didn’t think I was going to make that. And then the second one was just a reflex. I thought he was going to the forehand, went to the backhand. I got it over somehow and then I thought that was maybe going to win and then he got to it quite comfortably, and he had to hit the lob because I was so close to the net.
Then because he was coming in already, I thought maybe he was going to be pretty close to the net so let me try the lob instead of just the hit I usually play. It worked perfectly, so I’m happy I didn’t miss it wide and, even better, that he got it back—so he created even more to it. Yeah, it is rare for me to win that point with the lob in the circumstance. I know I can hit it, but it’s so rare to get that opportunity to line it up… It was exciting and the fans enjoyed it, which is almost as important as winning the point!”
Last but not the least, this was Roger’s 1,150th career match and his 933rd match win. The closest active player to these stats is Tommy Haas who has played 861 matches, meaning no other active player has even PLAYED the number of matches Roger has WON. Let that ridiculous fact sink in 😉 Till next time, allez Roger!
***Tweener photo from: http://tennis.si.com/2014/02/24/video-roger-federer-dubai-hot-shot/. Other two photos from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships facebook page.***