Back… from outer space! Or rather, from a beach holiday in the Maldives 😀 After a month of no Roger Federer on tour, the Maestro finally played his first match at the Dubai Duty Free Championships. His faced off against an old foe, Mikhail Youzhny. Mikhail has never won a match in the 15 times they had played each other. Was the streak finally about to get broken?
The match started with Mikhail showing all the signs of a possible upset. The Russian hit clean shots and some beautiful winners. Perhaps he had sensed that Roger hadn’t played any matches in a while and thought of this as an opportunity. That proved to be the case indeed as Roger looked rusty, especially on the backhand, hitting shots long or into the net. However, he served well and that kept him from getting in any real danger in those early games. For the first 6 games neither player blinked and the Russian looked the stronger of the two. But then came the 7th game and that’s when Roger stepped it up and doubts began to creep into Youzhny’s mind. Roger had 2 breakpoints at 15-40 but Mikhail saved them both. However Roger kept up the pressure and got a third breakpoint and this time, after an extended rally, the Russian got broken. Roger then quickly consolidated the break to go up 5-3*. By then Mikhail’s resolve had begun to fade and serving to stay in the set, he gave Roger 2 set points. The Maestro needed just one and the first set was done, 6-3 in 32 minutes.
Roger served to open the second set and got pushed by Youzhny to deuce but ultimately the Swiss held. Despite the fight shown by Mikhail in the first game, he got broken right away in his own first service game of the set. Serving at 2*-0, Roger quickly consolidated and the Russian was down 0*-3 in the span of 10 minutes. Mikhail held his next service game to get on the board and pushed Roger to another deuce in the next game. But by then, Roger was in full flow, hitting winners from the baseline and the net alike. The Maestro held to go up 4-1*. Roger kept up the pressure in Mikhail’s next service game and the Russian went from 30-0 to 30-40 in the blink of an eye giving Roger another breakpoint. This time an error by Youzhny himself gave the Swiss the double break. Roger was left to serve for the match at 5*-1 and he served it out to love. Game, set, match, Federer, 6-3, 6-1 in 56 minutes. Here are the match stats.The Maestro started slow but didn’t take long before he warmed up. He served well in both sets, his backhand improved over the course of the match, and his forehand, especially the inside-out forehand, was simply divine. He won 4 out of 7 breakpoints while providing none to Youzhny. Roger also won 5 of his 11 net points and I suspect he would like to see that ratio a bit better. The Swiss hit 27 winners to 18 errors compared to Youzhny’s 9 winners and 20 errors. I think it was a good first match to have, not too easy but it allowed him to find his groove and get better and better. Here is a clip of the highlights, with the wonderful shot that brought up match point and the match point itself. Here is the hot shot backhand smash, his post-match interview clip and his presser transcript.
A quick note about the presser. Roger was asked about his participation in the Davis Cup and he very clearly indicated that he wouldn’t play it this year. Those who know me will know that I have never been a fan of the Davis Cup. To me it’s an unfair competition because the countries with more players usually benefit by being able to share the load. Plus the 5 set format does no player any favors. But I mostly dislike it because of how Roger has been criticized for not winning it, despite this being a team event, and for not playing all ties throughout the years. His commitment has been questioned constantly even though he has been playing the Davis Cup since 1999. Except for 2010 and 2013 he has played at least one tie every year for a total of 14 years. In my opinion, he’s done more than enough.
I followed it last year with the hope that if Switzerland won, Roger (and I) would be done with this tournament once and for all. So I for one was thrilled with this announcement in the presser. If there is anyone who deserves to play the tournaments he wants without any penalties, it’s Roger. The man has played 1,231 matches and won 1,003 of them; he fulfilled all his participation obligations a while ago. We are still lucky enough to see him on tour precisely because he has the freedom to choose which tournaments he wants to play. The Davis Cup was the last shackle that he needed to throw off. Now it’s finally done and I can happily end my rant here 🙂
Roger had a day off the singles today but instead played the doubles with his longtime friend Michael Lammer. Out of all his Swiss buddies he had never played a pro doubles match with ‘Michi’ so this was extra special for them both, even though they lost in the end. I wonder if he will play any more doubles at all now but I hope he does because he really seems to enjoy it.
Up next is the Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, who is currently ranked 31 but has been as high as #7. Considering how long they have both been on tour, I was surprised to see they’ve only played each other 5 times. Roger won all 5 matches but the last one was back in 2012 so there isn’t even much of a recent experience to draw on. Fernando had a very good victory over fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez to reach this round so he’s feeling good at the moment. Plus he’s a lefty which is always hard to get used to right away so it might be a tough match. The quicker conditions in Dubai don’t leave much room for error, but if Roger’s serve is working and he moves as well as he did in last the set and a half of his win against Mikhail, then Roger has a very good chance. The match will be the last one of the day on Center Court. Hoping for a good win for our Maestro! Allez!