As a few twitter followers might know, I’ve been bogged down with the flu so forgive me if I’m still a bit slow with these posts. I had figured I would write about Roger Federer’s R2 and QF matches at Halle in one post but lo and behold, he got a walkover for the QFs which means he’s played just one match to reach the SFs. That match was against a new opponent, Portuguese rising star João Sousa.
The match started with our champ serving very well with quite a few love holds. But no matter how much he pushed João, he couldn’t break him. He had 5 break points but couldn’t convert any of them and ultimately the first set led to a tie-break. Even though he went down a mini-break early, Roger got it back right when João had set-point. Then Roger had set-point on João’s serve but missed it. Finally, Sousa took the tie-break 10-8. Despite playing clinical service games, Roger’s returns produced many shanks and went long, particularly off the backhand. As such he couldn’t break Sousa when he had his chances and paid for those missed opportunities when he lost the tie-break and the set.
On to set 2, and it started with João getting pushed yet again, but holding serve nonetheless. Roger held serve with relatively more ease, just like in set 1. This pattern continued till 3 all. Then the Portuguese lost a bit of focus and made a few errors to go down multiple break points. The Maestro finally capitalized and broke to take a 4*-3 lead. He wasted no time in consolidating the break by holding to love. The break must have shook up João for he held to love as well, keeping the difference to one break and forcing our champ to serve for the set. Thankfully Roger did just that and served it out with minimal fuss. 1 set all and we went into a decider.
Set 3 started with an immediate break for the Maestro. But before we could celebrate, he was down 2 break points on his own serve while trying to consolidate. Nonetheless, Roger dug deep, saved those chances and held to go up 2-0*. João got back on track with a comfortable hold followed by an easier hold for the Swiss as well to get to 3-1*. Then in Sousa’s next service game Roger really pushed him to get from 40-15 to deuce. Roger got a break point but missed it, then got another one again. This time a wonderful forehand winner from the Swiss sealed the double break for Roger to go up 4*-1. The Maestro held well making Sousa serve to stay in the match at 1*-5. Despite going 0-30 down, João held and Roger had to serve for the match. He got pushed to 30 all but in the end he served it out without any drama. Game, set, match, Federer. Here are the match stats.Roger’s serving was very good but his returns weren’t great. He really should have won that first set; he played much better than João that entire set but lost the big points. This seems to be happening as of late, the past few months. However, it should also be noted that despite losing that set, Roger remained focused and started to play better and tighten the screws for João as the match went on. The Portuguese, for his part, played a great match, especially in the first 2 sets but couldn’t sustain that intensity and the level of play required, especially as Roger continued to improve his own performance set by set. It was a tougher than expected match but I hope the hard-fought win will give him more confidence and inspiration going forward. Here is a clip of the presser and an excerpt of what Roger said:
“It was slightly frustrating at times clearly, but nevertheless I served well and kept on doing my thing. It was important to stay calm and actually I think it gives me more confidence winning this way. I had to stay calm, fight through the match and find a way and then the last set and a half were much better. So, I’m actually pretty happy now.”
Next up is the SF where Roger will face Kei Nishikori. Kei is one of the few active players to have a positive H2H ratio against the Swiss, winning their 2 most recent matches in Madrid in 2013 and Miami this year. Kei is super-fast and returns very well so Roger will definitely need to have his A-game especially in his own service games and then actually capitalize on any break points he gets. Kei is at his most dangerous in 3 setters where there is less chance of fatigue. Plus he is not in awe of Federer at all. Roger has never underestimated him so I doubt he will for this match. A win over Kei would not only help Roger’s confidence in his grass court game but would also balance out that H2H and ensure that Kei does not become a mental block in his head.
I am expecting this to be a tough match going to 3 sets. But it’s not all gloom and doom predictions though. For one thing, Kei has never faced Roger on grass and the surface seems to be quite quick and low-bouncing from what I saw. It gives Roger much more opportunities to unleash his creative arsenal of shots. Also, the João match was Roger’s first grass match with his new, bigger racquet. I’m sure a little adjustment was needed. Since then he has played a doubles match with his childhood friend Marco Chiudinelli which they won. So by now he probably does have a bit more feel for the grass than he did before his opening match at Halle.
Roger’s SF match is scheduled as the 2nd match of the day so the start time will be around 2:30pm to 3:00pm local time. Here’s hoping for a great match win from our Maestro. Good luck Roger! Allez!