Here we are, Rome! I’ve never lived there so I have a biased view but based on a short holiday I was lucky enough to take in 2011, I absolutely fell in love with it. I am a big classical history nerd so the trip was a dream come true and one of my big bucket list activities that I could proudly strike off. On top of that Rome has fabulous food, warm people and gorgeous weather (in August at least) so really, I was in heaven. And guess what, it’s Roger Federer’s favorite city too 😀 but here’s the kicker: Roger has never won a title in Rome in 14 attempts. He’s reached 3 finals, but never the title; No guesses for who caused those heartbreaks.
So in his 15th appearance in Rome, Roger has already played 2 matches. The first was a repeat of the Istanbul final against the formidable clay court specialist, Pablo Cuevas. I was apprehensive given how valiantly Pablo had fought in their previous match but I needn’t have been worried. Roger played the best clay match of this miserable clay season. Pablo pushed him but you got the sense Roger was in control from the beginning. The first set reached a tie-break but unlike last time, no such dramas took place and Roger took it 7-3 with this amazing set point.
The Swiss continued to sharpen his game in the second set and produced this hot shot that left us and Pablo open-jawed in awe. Though he got upset at having wasted breakpoint chances early in set 2, he didn’t let annoyance thwart him from his plan of attack. Roger relentlessly pushed Pablo till he finally got the crucial break. One break was all he would get but that was enough as Roger took the set 6-3 with this amazing match-point shot. Here is the on-court interview he did with Sky, here is the post-match interview and here are the stats.Roger scored high across the board in those stats, 1st and 2nd serves, low unforced errors, high number of winners, net points won and so on. He looked good heading into his R3 match with Kevin Anderson the next day. Sure enough, he started his next match very strongly by breaking Kevin immediately to go up 3-0* in set 1. Roger was on fire and Kevin wasn’t playing his best which made this match less competitive than the previous one vs. Pablo. Roger easily took the set 6-3 and seemed to be in no mood to wait around in set 2. He got a break to go up 3*-2, then he quickly consolidated to get to 4-2* and then got a double break to go up 5*-2 and ready to serve for the match. And then… insanity broke loose.
For the first time in the match, Anderson had a breakpoint. Roger didn’t make him wait long at all as he double faulted to gift Kevin the break. I thanked the tennis gods for that extra insurance break and hoped Roger would take it on the second try. Kevin, sensing a shift in the momentum, quickly held his own serve and went up to 4-5*. Roger was about to serve for the match, AGAIN. Ok so this time it had to work right? WRONG. Unbelievably, Roger was broken AGAIN and it was 5 all! In 3 games the match had gone from sunny and sublime to dark and painful.
Just when it looked a tie-break might be the best case scenario, Roger finally found that groove he had enjoyed for the past 1.5 matches and he broke Kevin to take the lead 6*-5. Which meant, in order to avoid a tie-break, Roger would need to serve for it and judging by his past two service games I braced myself for impact. But The Maestro righted the ship as the third time proved to be the charm. Roger finally held and instead of winning the set 6-2, he won it 7-5. Here are the highlights and here are the match stats.I have no idea what happened to Roger for those 3 games. Of course what’s important is that ultimately he won. But was that a lapse in form or concentration or both? This is a link to his interview with Sky Sports and below is what he had to say about the match in his presser. Interesting that he said the conditions are quick in Rome. Hmm.
“I had to adjust and react differently in today’s match than yesterday’s match. It was so different, because it’s Kevin and his amazing serve. There’s only so much you can do on the return games. The first thing was not to get frustrated, because I was not seeing where he was serving. But thankfully, I got off to a really good start in both sets. From then on, I could relax almost. I was able to break him four times, which was a really good effort in the quick conditions here in Rome.”
I didn’t find any comments yet where he addressed this 3 game relapse specifically. I honestly don’t know how to explain it myself and after much deliberation I have come to one conclusion: this drama strangely makes sense this year. Yes, I am blaming it on 2015-itis. Roger has been known for his consistency throughout his career but this year so far has been the exception. He has had big highs and big, unexpected lows and this match encapsulated his trend for this year.
It is entirely possible this pattern will continue throughout the tournament and perhaps all through the year. This means, we will have no idea what to expect from one match to the next. That brings me to today’s match against Berdych who is always a formidable opponent. Now, Roger might lose in straight sets or win in straight sets and anything in between is possible too.
Roger Federer hates roller coaster rides but this year all of us including him have been riding on one since the beginning. My advice is there is no stopping the ride now; we’re in the middle of it, you can’t get off till December I’m afraid. All you can do is make sure the metal bar is holding you down. You can yell in fear when we fall, scream in exhilaration while we go up and try not to throw up when we go through the loops. Hopefully when this crazy ride comes to a stop, we’ll be thankful for having survived the ride and have trophies to boast of – Um, I would like one Roland Garros, one Wimbledon and maybe the World Tour Finals on the side, please? Thanks. And I bet when 2015 ends, you’ll want to go on that crazy ride again for 2016 😀 Allez Roger!