Roger Federer played his 1,155th match and won! This was his 938th career match win. He faced Paul-Henri Mathieu as his first opponent in Round 2 of Indian Wells. The final score was 6-2, 7-6(7-5) and he took 90 minutes to get there. He could’ve gotten it done earlier however. The match was a mix of Federer pre-2013, Federer of 2013 and Federer post-2013 and each avatar appeared in this very same order.
The first set took only 22 minutes. The Swiss was in full control and broke the Frenchman in his very first game. Roger’s serves were lethal as he quickly held to 15 with the help of 2 aces, to consolidate the break and go up 2-0*. After that both players held easily with Roger having two successive love holds to go up to 4-2*. Then Paul-Henri gave Roger another break point by committing a double fault. A short rally followed by an error from the Frenchman gave the double break for the Maestro who had to serve out the set. After dropping only the first point, some fine serving and quick points helped Roger seal the deal. Here are the stats for Set 1.I had a feeling the second set would be tougher and it was. Paul-Henri with nothing to lose started to go for his shots. Serving to go up 2 games to 1, Mathieu got pushed to deuce twice before finally holding to stay on serve. Another quick hold from the Swiss to level the scores to 2 all and the pressure was back on Mathieu again. Roger had a break point but Paul-Henri saved it and ultimately held. Mathieu was then finally able to push Roger into a difficult service hold, even pushing him to deuce, but the Maestro held. It was 3 all and quite tense indeed. The situation came to a boil in the very next game as Paul-Henri offered our champ another break point. This time there were no mistakes from the Swiss as a brilliant cross-court forehand winner clinched the break we were all hoping for. Roger was up 4*-3 and served and consolidated the break to go up 5-3* leaving the Frenchman to serve to stay in the match.
Paul-Henri was pushed to the limit in this service game and at one point, Federer even had a match point. But a strong hold from Mathieu meant that Federer would have to serve it out himself at 5*-4. Enter Federer of 2013: a double fault to start the game and I knew we were in for some drama. Roger saved a break point and got it to deuce. But his trusty forehand failed him utterly and he got broken. The score became level at 5 all. This service game was unlike any of the others throughout the match; it was simply nerves while trying to close out matches. We have been seeing this problem since 2013. The question was would the Federer of 2014 make an appearance to right the ship.
Meanwhile, galvanized by breaking the Maestro, Paul-Henri held quickly to go up 6-5* and this time the Swiss had to serve to take the set to a tie-break. After quickly going down 0-30, Roger’s serves (which had temporarily gone off for an afternoon siesta) came back just in the nick of time and bailed him out. We were in a tie-break. Mathieu immediately got a mini-break to go up 3*-1. But Roger got the mini-break back right away and held to get back on serve at 3 all. After the change of ends, Roger held to take the lead 4-3* and then a double fault from Mathieu gave Roger the mini-break at 5-3*. Mathieu held his next serve and the onus was on Maestro to serve it out at 5*-4. However, yet another forehand error gave the Frenchman the mini-break back and it was back on serve. Roger then held to go up 6-5* having match point on Paul-Henri’s serve. Federer’s forehand finally came to the rescue as he hit a winner down the line. Here are the stats for the overall match. The big differences between Set 1 and Set 2 were the number of unforced errors, he committed 20(!) in Set 2 compared to just 6 in Set 1. Plus his serves suffered as well with a big dip in his 2nd serve points won. he won 83% of his second serves point in Set 1 and only 38% in Set 2. Much of this dip happened in the tail end of Set 2 from the time he got broken.
For the first hour of the match, Roger was untouchable. He played lethal, divine tennis. Even when Paul-Henri was pushing him, he picked up his game and resisted such that the Frenchman didn’t have a break point. All of that unraveled as he was about to serve for the match. Roger hit his only double fault of the match, his forehand gave way to errors and his serves suddenly deserted him. It’s not an unreasonable leap to say it was all mental at that point, and the Maestro admitted as much in his post-match interview. Apparently he had a feeling he would be broken while serving for the match, and then boom, he was. Goes to show his confidence is still not back to Vintage Federer levels and I think for the time being both Roger and us just need to accept it and move on.
What is important is what we saw in Dubai. Instead of losing matches he should have won, he won matches he could’ve have lost. He now takes time, and calms himself and although that calmness came a little later than I was hoping yesterday, it eventually did come. He collected himself and focused when it mattered. He probably would have still won the match had it gone to 3 sets but being able to turn it around and preventing that will give him a good boost. Plus this was his first match and we should remember that this court plays very slow unlike Dubai. Then there is also the matter of the new racquet. I believe this is the slowest surface he has played so far with this racquet so I am sure he needed a bit of adjustment as well. These are not meant to be excuses and actually we don’t need excuses anyway. He won, in straight sets no less and he got the job done. End of story.
His next match is with another tricky player, Dmitry Tursunov, ranked 30 in the world, and here is one player who has never been in awe of him. Strangely enough, despite being almost the same age, they have only met 3 times. Federer won all three matches but their last match was in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics. That was a loooooong time ago. Meaning Federer will probably treat him as a new opponent and Dmitry will try his level best to get this feather of defeating Federer in his cap. No predictions. Instead, all I will hope for is that even if he runs into trouble, Roger will stay calm, take his time and work it out. Cmon Roger! You can do this! Allez!