Roger Federer qualified for the semifinals of the World Tour Finals with a tough but good 6-4, 7-6(5) victory over the world #5 David Ferrer. The Spaniard had been on an 11-match winning streak prior to the match.
The Swiss Maestro had a shaky start and was forced to save three break points in his opening game, which he held. Almost predictably, he broke Ferrer in the second game and held in the third to consolidate the break. However Ferrer's form came back and he got on level terms at 3-3. Skip ahead to 5-4, and the Paris champion played a few loose points and the Swiss took full advantage.
The second set was much closer, and Roger had his chances to get the elusive break, but was unable to. 12 games could not decide the set winner so they went to a tiebreak, where Fed played some of his best tennis to seal the match in one hour and twenty-nine minutes.
Fed was clutch on the day, as he saved nine of ten break points, and he had to earn about eight of them I'd say. Clutch Roger at his best is something to see. His composure is outstanding.
Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray on Wednesday in a tight three-setter to move him to 2-0 in the group. Tomas Berdych also won in three, beating Tsonga. It sets up a very interesting Friday, as Murray must win to advance to the semifinals. Juan Martin del Potro also picked up his first win by dismantling Janko Tipsarevic 6-4, 6-0.
Analysis of Federer/Ferrer match:
This was a match that you cannot look too deeply into the statistics. Federer hit 39 unforced errors, but he also hit some jaw-dropping shots, including a few that were reminiscent of his prime days on tour. He didn't get as many first serves in play as he would have liked, but his second serve was elite and won him many points.
Ferrer also played very well, and his aggressive attack certainly caused Fed to go for more on his serve, and Roger admitted that afterwards. Much of the struggle Roger had on the day can be attributed to (in my opinion) the depth and consistency of Ferrer's shots. There were many backhand errors where Roger was half-volleying them from the baseline and tried to hit the ball a little too fine to give him an offensive position and he shanked.
So why am I not worried about the 39 unforced errors? A few reasons. When Roger struggles, he tends to get impatient and goes for outright winners when he has no business attempting them. This is not what happened today. As I previously mentioned, many of his errors came from the baseline and off the backhand wing where Ferrer was peppering it deep and without much pace (but lots of spin). Roger, never wanting to back off the baseline, was playing much riskier shots than if he were to back off the back line.
It is very easy to mistime a backhand hit right off the bounce (Federer takes the ball so early that even if it isn't a "half-volley" it is still coming fiercely off the court). Having a one-hander of my own, I know what it's like. When you hit a successful one, your centre of gravity remains low throughout the shot, and then when the follow through is completed, the weight shifts. But the slightest shift in weight too early, and balance can be lost and therefore the shot becomes misdirected. Notice that the majority of the time Roger makes an error of his backhand wing, he's off-balance and he doesn't have his right foot planted firmly.
All right, onto the positives of the match, and the way I see it, there were many of them. Firstly, his second serve. Early in the match, he hit a good three or four second serve kickers that had Ferrer missing wildly. One serve, on the deuce side, just landed over the net close to the centre line, and kicked up over Ferrer's head. It was jaw-dropping, and just as impressive as any other highlight-reel shot Roger comes up with.
The other big thing to take away from the match was Roger's defense. Since the US Open, his legs have not been as sharp as they usually are, and it was affecting his game. Now, it appears as if the week he took of in Paris was certainly the right decision. There were many points where Ferrer had Roger running side to side, and the Fed, in his vintage free-flowing style, tracked them down and defended beautifully. Especially off the forehand side. A few times he lasered a forehand cross-court or down the line and it immediately put him back on the offensive.
Last but not least, the creative juices were flowing in this one. Halfway through the second set, Fed played around with his drop shot and well before the match ended, he had pretty much hit and/or attempted every single shot in his repertoire. And remember, that repertoire is an encyclopedia (meaning, in essence, that he has every single shot in the book).
A few gems from the Grand Master: six rallies that stood out to me.
At 30-40 in the very first game, Roger was forced into hitting a short ball, and Ferrer approached. The Spaniard hit a near-perfect shot right into the corner, but Roger while running, scooped up the ball on his backhand side and flicked it past David down the line. It was a play that Roger could make at will in his prime and it was nice to see him bring it out on such an important point.
At 2-0 break point Ferrer, Fed came up with another stunner. Ferrer hit a hard forehand cross-court with great angle, and Roger, while on the dead run, whipped his forehand like a lasso with an absurd angle for an ouright winner. David Ferrer is one fast dude, and to be able to hit a winner like that by him (he was tracking it down) is just too good.
The first point of the 10th game at 5-4 didn't end spectacularly but it was special nevertheless. Once again, Roger was pushed out wide on the forehand and hammered a forehand down the line with just a flick of his wrist (uncanny). He next scampered across the court, set his feet, and nailed a penetrating backhand down the line. After that, he attacked the net, and took a swinging forehand looper out of the air, and Ferrer hit his lob long. I highlight this point in words because Roger would have never been able to attack without the tremendous defense he played, and that sort of thing was something he was doing regularly in the spring. It appears he is back in that regard.
In the second set, in the first game at 30-40 on his serve, Roger stole one. After hitting an inside-in forehand and then a short cross slice, he came in. However, he stumbled just before reaching the service line and nearly lost his balance. He didn't though, and somehow pulled off a volley behind Ferrer, which forced David to pop up a lob. It would have been successful and he would have grabbed the game but Roger used all his athletic ability and made contact with the smash off the very top of his strings for the putaway. It would have been easier but Roger was caught too close to the net when he stumbled and was forced to recover more. That made it special.
The next point I described may have been the best of the match, at 1-1 15-30 on Roger's serve. A few shots into the rally, Fed hit a hard angled forehand cross court which forced Ferrer to make a stunning get. Fed, in the doubles alley, ran all the way past centre to to hit a forehand (oh Roger) which clipped the net. Fed's next shot was a sick-angled backhand which David amazingly got to. The next shot was the dagger, as Roger hit a fading-away inside-in forehand that forced Ferrer to hit a weak reply and he hit the net. But the only reason David couldn't get to the ball was because he stopped in his backhand corner for a split second, looking for Roger's favourite inside-out shot. That is how big of a weapon that shot is for him. Even when he isn't smacking it, the hesitance of his opponents wins him points.
One last one, I promise. This one came in the second set at 3-2 0-15. After a great baseline exhange of spin and angle, Roger tried to sneak in but Ferrer caught him and put a ball near his feet. Fed tossed up an inside-out backhand drop shot. Ferrer was there with time to spare and smashed it cross-court, but Federer, floating like a butterfly, lunged to his left and stabbed a backhand volley to the open court. A great display of reflex, anticipation, and creativity.
Okay, I'm done with that.
In general, Roger didn't bring his A-game but wasn't allowed to from the great play of Ferrer. But Roger brought his A-game in terms of creativity and it was a very fun match to watch, with a countless number of exciting baseline exchanges, and some very great net play. Don't worry about the serving or the shanks - this was still a very classy match from the Swiss Genius.
Federer now plays del Potro in his third match, which will take place on Saturday. He is guaranteed a semifinal finish regardless of the outcome, but you know he'd like to have a clean sweep and go into the semis with confidence, especially if he ends up playing Murray or Berdych.
Hope you enjoyed,