It’s been almost a month since we saw Roger Federer last but he made sure we got more than just a glimpse of him on his first match back on the hardcourts of Shanghai. Federer faced off against the fast rising Argentinean player Leonardo Mayer. Mayer was ranked 94 at the beginning of this year but has since raced through the rankings to being the current world #25. This was their first meeting. On paper it seemed this should have been a straight sets win for Roger. But Leonardo, who had cited Roger as his idol before, had other plans.
Mayer burst out of the gates in the first set with a very high level of play from the start. He had a clear game plan in mind and executed it very well while Roger was definitely rusty. Roger got broken in just his second service game while Mayer continued to hold with ease and seemed poised to take the set when he had to serve for it at 5*-4. But as we have seen many times before with new, less experienced opponents, it is daunting to serve out the set especially if your idol is across the net. Mayer got broken and Roger got it back on serve in the nick of time. A hold took the Swiss to 6-5* but you had the feeling he would capitalize on this momentum and break Mayer again to take the set; he did just that. 7-5 in exactly one hour.
On to set 2 and you would think Roger would be feeling good coming in with the momentum from the first set. Instead, he lost his focus while Mayer kicked off the set with renewed vim and vigor. The result? An immediate break by Mayer to go up 1*-0 on Roger. This set was Roger’s worst one of the match. His serve statistics dropped, missed quite a few volleys and got run around at the baseline by Mayer who played precision points especially to Roger’s backhand. The set continued with Mayer playing a very high level of tennis while errors continued to leak out of Roger’s game, he had 17 unforced errors to Mayer’s 8. This was also a fantastic set of serving for Mayer who won a lot of points from both his first and second serves. As Roger served to stay in the set at 3*-5, he got broken again and Leonardo took the second set 6-3 in just 40 minutes. 1 set all and we headed for a decider.
Roger cleaned up his game significantly in the third set. He was aggressive and focused and served and returned well too. Unfortunately Leonardo’s level didn’t drop much either. In fact, Roger had no break point opportunities at all in this set. The set continued with both players holding serve till Roger was serving at 4*-5 to stay in the match. A string of errors from the Maestro suddenly gave Mayer 2 match points. The first match point was saved by a miracle and bad luck on Mayer’s part. Although looking back, there were a ton of bad line-calls that went against Roger throughout the match so maybe this was a way of karma restoring balance? Who knows. But you need to see it to understand how close it was so here it is. He saved the next match point with a brilliant forehand down the line and it was deuce. Roger ultimately held that game and the next game too to take the match to a 3rd set tie-break.
In the tie-break Roger fell behind immediately to 1-2*. At the change of ends Mayer still had the lead with Roger serving at 2*-4. Roger gave another mini-break to Mayer who was now up 5*-2 on his own serve. Roger took one mini-break back to push Mayer to 5*-3 but Mayer got the next point which meant this time he had 3 match points on Roger’s serve at 6-3*. Roger got both points on his own serve leaving Mayer to serve for the match at 6*-5. In a dramatic rally Roger won that point with a sublime backhand down the line and it was 6 all. But Mayer won the next point on his serve to push the tie-break to 7-6* but Roger held both his serves and finally at 8-7* he had his first match point on Mayer’s serve. He needed just that one. He took the point with an amazing lob that only his genius mind could have thought of as the shot to hit on match point.
Game, set, match, Federer after 2 hours and 41 minutes, having saved 5 match points, the second most in his entire career. There were some incredible shots from both players in this match. In the end, Roger was better at the bigger moments and kept his cool and focus. His defense in particular was spectacular at the end which is not something that’s usually mentioned about him; but some of those gets were unreal. To read up on his thoughts about the match go to this link. Here are the highlights and here are the match stats.Mayer more than made a statement with this match. He was the better player for most of the duration and yes I too felt bad when I saw his teary face at the net in the replays. I didn’t see it live because the moment Roger won I was flat on my back from sheer exhaustion. I don’t even know what to expect in his next match in less than 5 hours from now. He faces off against a tough customer, world #18, Roberto Bautista Agut. Bautista is another player who, like Mayer, is having a great year. He was ranked 73 at the start of the year but his fantastic results helped him to reach a career high of 15 back in September.
Bautista played Roger for the first time at this year’s US Open which Roger won in straight sets. But tonight it all comes down to whether Roger will be exhausted from last night or whether last night was a great way to shake off the rust and get him more energized. Roger is also suffering from a cold and from his twitter update we know he was up as late as 4:30am last night. Hopefully he was able to sleep in and get rid of the cold as well. I honestly don’t know how the match will play out tonight but I know I will be there clutching my pillow till the very end. Meanwhile, before I leave, here are some stats for you.
- This was Roger’s 1205th match and 980 career match win.
- This was Roger’s 57th match win this year. He is still leading the year with most match wins.
- This match was Roger’s 602nd match win on hardcourts and 740th outdoor match win.
- Roger has now won 305 matches at the Masters 1000 level.
- With this win Roger has assured himself of rising in the ranks to World #2 following Rafa’s early exit at Shanghai.
- The last time Roger was ranked #2 was back in May 2013. He will regain this rank after 17 months.
- On October 13th, 2014, Roger will become the first 33-year-old World #2 since Andre Agassi on September 1st, 2003.
That’s it from me for now! Hopefully the Maestro will make it a bit easier on this tonight. See you on the other side 😀