Once again, Roger Federer had an up and down performance and was plagued by many of the issues that have hurt him all year, and he was defeated by Gael Monfils in the 3rd round in Shanghai 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3.
The match started as bad as it could for Fed as he was broken after hitting a few loose errors. That is all the Frenchman would need to win the first set as he served big and held out to gain the one set advantage. Apart from the first game it wasn't a terrible set from Roger but he couldn't find a way to break back.
In the second set he went down a break at 3-3 with a woeful game but broke back immediately, showing some fighting spirit. The set went to a tiebreak and Monfils went up 5-3, but on the 9th point Roger somehow blocked back a 214 km/h serve and Monfils missed a forehand long and then the next point was won when Gael sent a forehand pass long. Two points later and the set was Roger's and that looked to be a big turning point.
But it wasn't.
In the first game of the 3rd set he was up 0-30 on return but could not manage to get the break. A few games later and he played yet another poor game which really cost him. The rest of the set he fought valiantly and saved a few break points at 1-4 and had break points of his own at 4-2 but failed to capitalize. Monfils served out the match strongly.
The match pretty much summed up how the season has gone for Federer. It's not that he can't still play great tennis - he still displays his amazing talent and exquisite shotmaking on a regular basis (though less than he used to) but in the important moments of the match he makes mistakes that cost him sets, and ultimately, matches.
In this particular match, he wasn't terrible. I have caught a lot of flack for saying that, but he really wasn't. He was hitting cleanly, producing great winners, and overall it was a decent quality match. Monfils was serving big and going for it on 2nd serves and these days, he's the kind of opponent that can gives Roger headaches, pushing him around the court and using his serve as a major weapon to hold easily and put more pressure on Fed's service games.
It's really hard to understand what is going wrong with Roger from a mental standpoint, but it's clear that his confidence is shot and he doesn't believe in himself like he once did - his poor play in the big points reflects that. Though he did show some clutch play to win the 2nd set, he wasn't clutch otherwise, making bad decisions on approach shots and getting frustrated with his errors.
I've heard people say he doesn't care anymore but I don't see how that is the case. That he was evidently frustrated with his errors shows that he does care a lot about winning and losing still. In a season where nothing has gone right, he came into this week optimistic and looking to help secure a spot at the World Tour Finals. He looked determined and wanted to win badly, but the pieces aren't falling into place right now. He looked absolutely furious when he missed vital shots in the match, and that to me only shows that his passion is there and how badly he wants to make the Year-end Championships, where of course he has won 6 times and made the final two other times.
As someone who has played tennis for a long time, I know what he is going through to an extent. There are times when you can try hard and put all the work in but your mind and body fail you in the critical moments. If I was Roger, I'd look at this loss as one where he played good tennis for stretches but just failed in the important moments and that was the difference. That's the way it was against Robredo at the US Open, and in many other losses this season. Again, it's not that can't play good tennis any longer, but that he is mentally and perhaps physically burned out and can't automatically raise his game like he once could in his prime.
It's been a season to forget and this loss followed the pattern of many others this season, but as long as Roger is playing and as long as he loves playing the sport at a professional level, I will always believe in him. There is nobody I'd rather watch, even now, because of the brilliance he displays, even if the occasions in which he does so are fewer and fewer than ever before.
Keep fighting Rog.