Roger Federer won his 7th Dubai title! Hurray for another sailboat! Yes I know I’m a week late, but sometimes life gets in the way. However, though I’m late, it doesn’t mean I forgot about the win. On the contrary, I have been savoring it over the past 7 days. And I realized that the reason I enjoyed this title so much is because this win was important on many levels. Where to start? The records, yes I know. I’ll get to those at the end I promise. That’s the obvious answer: the records and stats. But this win was so much more.
For starters, this was his first tournament back after the much talked about early exit at the Australian Open earlier this year. He was gone for a full month during which he had a long vacation and then a training block. While that meant he was fresh and ready, he hadn’t had any match practice. I’m sure he was a bit nervous about how he would fare being back on tour. So it was quite uplifting to see him get more and more comfortable with every match he played. He also faced a variety of opponents. Youzhny was good as a first match to get his confidence up; then came lefty Verdasco, a player he hadn’t played against in a while. After that was Gasquet who had the potential to be dangerous but wasn’t. Then in the SFs he faced Coric, an unknown entity. It certainly wasn’t the easiest of draws, especially on the quick courts of Dubai where there is less room for error. Roger had to adjust quickly and get in the groove right away, which he thankfully did 🙂
He also defended his points and more importantly, defended his title. He came in as a defending champion and stayed unbeaten and we haven’t had that feeling for a while except at Halle last year. Considering he won 5 titles in 2014 I was wondering if he would be able to keep up with the pace and defend all of them again this year but at least now we know we already have one title defense in the bag. Plus, Dubai was the first title of 2014; this year we got our first one in Brisbane. So we know already that 2015 will be better than 2013 when he won just Halle.
In addition to the joy of Roger defending a title, Dubai will also be etched in my memory for the style of tennis he played. Even though Roger won in Brisbane and the conditions there are fast, I felt he didn’t deliver his optimal level of tennis there. He won the tournament with a combination of will, determination and good-enough tennis. He also looked tired by the end of Brisbane and that slight feeling of ennui continued during his matches in Melbourne. He didn’t look like he was enjoying playing as much as he usually does. All that changed in Dubai. Roger went from strength to strength in every match and produced scintillating points all throughout. He was super aggressive and hit some of the most beautiful volleys ever. His serves were accurate, his shots were clean and even his breakpoint conversion was impressive. He played with his vintage flair and lethal precision and didn’t drop a single set on his road to victory.
He exhibited a high level of tennis in all his matches but if I had to pick one, it would undoubtedly be the final which brings me to yet another important matter, his opponent in the final, Novak Djokovic. Even though Roger has defeated him a few times the last few years, they have always been in SF matches. The last time Roger defeated Novak in a final was at the 2012 Cincinnati Masters. Going into the Dubai final, the H2H was ever so slightly in Roger’s favor at 19-17 but Novak has been constantly threatening to get that to par. And on paper, it looked like Djokovic might get closer to that goal. He had just become the brand new Australian Open champion and further distanced himself from the pack as the World #1. Also, except for his loss in Doha, he had been undefeated since last year in Bercy. Funnily enough, a certain Mr. Federer was responsible for his last loss before that, in Shanghai 😉
Given that he was armed with the confidence that comes with being at the top of the world, many would have said Novak was the favorite. I myself thought it would come down to day-form and who got the quicker start, and I was right. Roger played his best match of the tournament in the final. He stepped it up a whole other level from his previous matches. The Swiss unleashed his entire arsenal against Novak and didn’t let him breathe as he bore down on him with offensive play from the first point to the last. Novak had an opportunity in the beginning but Roger held on and from then he didn’t look back and took the set with just one break of the Serbian’s serve. The second set was tougher with Novak creating more chances for himself, but every time, Roger dug himself out. He faced 7 break points in total and saved them all with fantastic serving, coming back from 15-40 multiple times. Despite getting passed a few times, Roger continued to move forward and his commitment to his net play paid off in the end.
This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning another milestone he reached right in the midst of the wonderful final match. Roger hit his 9,000th ace. He is only the fourth player to ever cross the 9,000 aces barrier and he’s in the company of elite servers, Roddick, Karlovic and Ivanisevic which is what makes this record extra special. Those three names are known for their massive serves and those super-bullets have earned them a total of 60 titles with 2 Grand Slams amongst the 3 of them. That sounds impressive till you realize the Maestro has won 84 titles including 17 Grand Slams all by himself. Clearly one of these four is not like the other. While the three have been lauded for their serves, Roger’s serve is always mentioned as one of the many tools in his toolbox. He also has that powerful forehand, exquisite backhand, eerie anticipation and feline footwork that dominates the narrative of the Swiss.
As such, Roger’s wonderful serve is possibly also one of the most underrated. But by reaching this milestone, he gives us the chance to put his serve under the spotlight for once. Roger’s serve is not the fastest nor does he hit a dozen of aces in every match. But his serve certainly has some magical qualities. For one, the toss is the same each time so the opponent has a hard time guessing where he is going to hit it. He is also unnervingly accurate with it. He seemingly picks and chooses his spots at will which makes returning his serves much more difficult and thus leading to more aces. Even more importantly, he often produces his aces right when he needs them the most. The final vs. Novak was a clear illustration of this. During crunch time, he can serve his way out. Check out this ATP tribute video where his opponents talk about Roger’s fantastic serve.
For me personally, I love his serves not for the stats or accuracy but for how beautiful the service motion is. I’ve always thought if there was ever a statue to be made of the Maestro it should be of his service stance. Two to three bounces of the ball is all he needs before the momentary positioning of the ball in the neck of the racquet. After that he starts his motion and it flows uninterrupted each time like a well-oiled machine. In one smooth movement he gently tosses the ball up, while his right arm gets the racquet ready and his knees bend in anticipation. Then at the right moment of the toss he uncoils his body, getting strength from his core and legs and smacks the ball making whatever adjustment he needs depending on what kind of serve he has decided to hit. Through it all, his arms are loose, his face is unconstrained, his eyes are relaxed and he finishes the motion by landing perfectly on his left leg with the balance of a ballerina. If you shoot photos of his service motion, it is pure perfection no matter when you snap the camera. It is the best example of art and athleticism coming together to produce beauty.
OK I’ll stop praising the Maestro’s serve now even though I could go on and on. I did promise at the beginning of the post that I would end by mentioning some of the stats and records he achieved with this win and so without further ado, here they are!
- Federer has now won 84 titles in his career, at 3rd place in the all-time record. In the open era only Connors (109) and Lendl (94) have won more titles.
- Federer has appeared in 126 finals during his career, 3rd in the Open Era, behind Connors and Lendl.
- Federer has won an all-time record 58 hardcourt titles.
- Federer is the only player to win 50 titles on a particular surface.
- Federer is the only player to win tournaments 7 times each on two surfaces, grass (Halle and Wimbledon) and hardcourts (Dubai).
- Federer is the only player to win 7 different tournaments at least 5 times each. As of 2015, he has won 5 titles at the US Open, 6 titles at Cincinnati, Basel and the ATP World Tour Finals and 7 at Dubai, Halle and Wimbledon.
- Federer is the only player to record 600 match wins on hardcourts. He currently has 628 hardcourt match wins. Agassi sits at #2 with 598.
- Federer is the 2nd player to record at least 600 wins per any court type –Vilas leads with 644 match wins on clay.
- Federer has now won 63 outdoor titles and is tied at 1st place with Nadal.
- Federer is 3rd on list of career outdoor match wins with his 755 wins as of the 2015 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
- Federer is 3rd on list of career matches played with 1,235 as of the 2015 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
- Federer is 3rd on list of most career match wins with his 1,007 wins as of the 2015 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
- Federer has reached a record 21 ATP 500 finals.
- Federer has now won 15 ATP 500 titles. He is tied at 1st place with Nadal.
- Federer hit his 9,000th ace in the final of the 2015 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. He is the 4th player to cross the 9,000th ace mark behind Roddick (9,074), Karlovic (9,375) and Ivanisevic (10,183).
- On March 9th, 2015, Federer will have completed a record 440 weeks ranked in the top 2.
Dubai was a wonderful tournament for Roger and a very important win that will give him confidence not just for the upcoming Masters at Indian Wells but for the year too. As we know from his schedule, he will skip Miami so Indian Wells will be his last hard court tournament till after Wimbledon. He was a finalist there last year and will be looking to see if he can go one better. The tournament will kick off on March 12th but remember he’ll have a bye in the first round. Good luck in California Roger!