Roger Federer is back on the tour on red clay. Yes I know my last post also had a ‘back-on-tour-on-clay’ theme but as we know, that campaign ended very quickly with just one win and one head-scratching loss to Monfils that I tried to understand but couldn’t. Given all that prep Roger had put in prior to that tournament and how well he played against Chardy in his first Monte Carlo match, I had no clue a straight set loss was on the cards next. Gael always causes Roger trouble but if you had watched that match you would know in that instance, he certainly helped Gael as well. By the time Monfils was done re-tying his shoelaces, Roger was gone from the tour again.
Probably that’s why it feels like it’s been some time since I’ve seen him play. I remember the tough Indian Wells final on March 22nd. After that, big tournaments like Miami and Monte Carlo came and went with a cameo from Roger while Novak Djokovic stomped his dominance over the tennis universe. Tennis hasn’t been giving me much joy lately and I finally figured out over the past week that it’s not only due to Roger’s sudden exits in Melbourne and Monte Carlo. I saw a tweet on my timeline that said: ‘This is Novak’s world and we’re all just living in it’ and that’s when it hit me. I find no joy living in Novak’s world.
I respect Novak as a player but I am not a fan and to me it’s boring to see no one mount a challenge against him, especially since both Novak and I know, he’s not even playing at his absolute best. Quite a few of his wins have been ugly, but a win is a win and Novak and his fans rightly deserve their moment in the sun. Hey, I know how wonderful that feels; I have been blessed with Roger giving us many such years in the past. So I don’t grudge them one bit. But just like many of them tuned out when Roger was winning everything, I realized I too am tuning out while Novak is winning everything. If it’s Novak’s world, then so be it. Doesn’t mean I have to hang around and watch.
So as it turns out, I haven’t been following tennis in 2015 as much as I did the past few years. You can point out that Novak’s been dominating for a while now so why am I suddenly feeling his impact? Well, that’s where it IS linked to Roger. Roger has played a lot until recently. Even during the difficult year of 2013 when he was struggling and trying out different strategies, he was there, for me to obsess over and thus ‘balance out’ the rest of the tour. This year, his schedule is understandably more stripped down. Plus, in the tournaments Roger has entered so far, he has either been very good or bounced out early. He’s been erratic which has led to even more gaps between tournaments.
Now before you jump all over me with accusations, please note that I am not blaming him or anyone for that matter. All I am saying is, in my own selfish world as a Federer fan, I need a big dose of Roger, his pretty tennis and his general dorkiness to enable me to enjoy the tour that’s dominated by a player I am not a fan of. Considering Roger has played for about 4 weeks this year it makes sense that I’ve kind of been out of tennis for the other 12 weeks of 2015, give or take.
This brings me to the present, the inaugural 2015 Istanbul Open. As a Roger fan, it’s been fun the past few days. The Maestro’s excitement and enthusiasm is always infectious and he hit the ground running with interviews, having a hit on the Bosphorus, attending the player’s party, donating his racquet, and a fun filled Kids Day event all before his first match. Roger has been warmly welcomed by the Turkish people and he is sure to have plenty of support throughout the tournament. With all the good vibes heading his way, perhaps Istanbul is the start of two solid weeks for our champ?
He certainly seemed ready and focused for his first match against an old friend Jarkko Nieminen. Their H2H going into the match was a staggering 14-0 in favour of the Swiss and Roger was in no mood to let Nieminen have a peak a reversing that order. The first set was over in 20 minutes and that’s with Jarkko winning 2 games. That’s how fast Roger can play. At one point Umpire Mohamed Lahyani had gotten down to check one of his first serves and had to scramble back into this seat because Roger was already in his service motion for his second serve. Roger was super sharp in that set, losing just 2 points on his first serve and 1 on his second. He got 79% of his first serves in which included 4 aces.
But Jarkko is a seasoned veteran and he started the second set well, cutting down on his errors and keeping Roger mired in longer baseline rallies. Roger’s serve came under pressure this set; his first serves in dropped to just 53%, he hit two double faults and his second serves got punished. He also hit a few random errors when he hit his forehand long and there was even a requisite shank let’s-look-at-that-ball-fly moment too. But the Swiss never got into too much trouble. He didn’t face a breakpoint at all and despite Jarkko’s push at the beginning of the second set, you could sense Roger was right there about to get the all-important break. He finally broke Jarkko to go up 6*-5 and made no mistake serving for the match, winning match point with a wonderful final flourish. Roger finished the match 6-2, 7-5 in exactly 60 minutes. Here are the match stats.The Maestro played well in his first match on Istanbul soil. When Nieminen stepped up his game, he posed a few difficulties for our champ, but Roger came through it unscathed. It was a good match to shake off any rust. Meanwhile, for anyone interested in Roger’s records, you can now proudly say he has won his 200th match on clay. In fact, other than Jimmy Connors, he is the only player to have won at least 100 matches on grass, 200 matches on clay and 300 matches on hardcourts. Incidentally, Roger holds the record for most hardcourt match wins with 633 wins; Novak is the closest active player with 415.
Roger has the day off today and he plans to go on a sightseeing boat tour on the Bosphorous to enjoy his first time in Istanbul. On Friday he will face off against a Spaniard he has never played before, Daniel Gimeno-Traver who had two good wins of his own. Daniel has nothing to lose and everything to win. He will look to capitalize on being an unknown entity to Roger plus having an advantage of being more used to the conditions by already playing two matches in the tournament.
Roger in full flight,
Is a beautiful sight,
For any time of the day or night!
A match post AND a poem! You are all truly blessed! 😉