This is my tennis blog, Lefty Advantage. Tennis is my biggest passion in life and I started this site to discuss the great game. I mainly follow the career of Roger Federer, but I truly love watching all tennis, whether it be the final of a Grand Slam
or a junior tournament on the other side of the world.

I have played tennis for 13 years. If you ever met me, I could talk your head off about all things tennis for hours on end if you would let me. Welcome, and enjoy the writing!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Fighting Federer prevails over Del Potro

Roger Federer won a thriller against Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 7-6(2), 7-5 in a match that the Swiss was behind in nearly the whole way. With the win Fed makes the semifinals of the Year-end Championship for the 11th time - the only time he didn't make it was 2008.

It was a bad start in this winner-moves-on contest, as Roger was broken in the first game. To make matters worse, he lost serve again and went down 5-1. He got one of the breaks back and forced Delpo to serve it out at 5-4, where he had break chances but couldn't convert.

It was another bad start in the second as he was broken in his second service game. This time however he didn't go down the double break and battled for a break back, and he was back in business. The set extended to a tiebreaker where Fed played some great tennis and closed it out with an ace.

Then, just as in the first two sets, Roger started disastrously in the third, getting broken yet again and in the blink of an eye he was three games from defeat with a 0 beside his name. But Roger Federer was not going down without a big fight, and boy did he give us a fight for the ages....

He got the break back to level at 3-3 and then had to serve to stay in the match at 4-5, which he did. He forced a break of serve and saved a break point of his own. Two points later, he fired an ace up the T for a huge victory that showed us all he still has the heart of a champion.

Despite being behind in all three sets, it actually wasn't a bad match statistically from Roger. 39 winners to 36 errors, 22/29 at the net, and 10 aces (to Delpo's 7). But it was certainly a match that will only be remembered by Fed's fighting spirit. He played this match as if it was a Grand Slam final - and after this hard season, I couldn't be happier as a fan to see him pick up this enormous victory in the fashion that he did. Winning in such a gutsy, scrappy style is more enjoyable for me to watch than to see him put on a clinic. Champions are made of matches like these, when your back is up against the wall and all you can do is fight. And he fought hard for sure, proven by the fact that he won 7 of the final 9 games after going down 3-0 in the decider.

6 months ago, Roger could not have won a match like this because his body would have broken down. But now, being as healthy as he's been all year, he defended like a much younger man, and displayed the brilliance we so often witnessed in his best years. I have said for a long time that when Fed is healthy, he is so much better off because he can remain patient and rely on his body to win the long, side-to-side, back-to-front (and back again) points.

I think his resilience gave the Argentine a lot of problems, because Fed forced him to hit one more ball, point after point, just as we would normally see from Nadal or Djokovic. Besides that, he used his slice backhand like a dream and approached the net often, to great success, hitting many beautiful volleys that are among the hardest shots to execute in the game.

In the semis Nadal waits for him, and without a day off it will be critical that bounce back strong because you know Rafa will just try to wear him down to test out his legs.

However, if this win doesn't give Roger a ton of confidence to go out there and play free, I don't know what will. And perhaps most importantly, he knows how to beat the Spaniard on this court, as he's done so twice before (and twice in Shanghai). He knows the game plan, and it's up to him to execute it. (The game plan as I see it: serve well, attack Nadal's backhand and hit short angled backhands of his own to the forehand side.)

Rafa is the favourite and for good reason, but Fed has a great chance to win. He must cut down on the lapses in concentration, but at the same time, he has to play with the same fire and spirit that he played with today against Delpo. It means the world to him to have won this match, and he needs to carry this momentum he has going to get ahead early and put some doubt into Rafa's mind.

This is your time Roger, we believe in you.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Federer Beats Gasquet in Straights

Roger Federer got his first win at the World Tour Finals over Richard Gasquet with a 64 63 win over the talented but underachieving Frenchman. It wasn't a masterclass performance by the Swiss Maestro but he got the job done in straight sets and that's what matters.

I won't go into great detail about the match but at a far glance all you need to know is that Federer served well, used his variety to keep Gasquet off guard, and was very efficient when approaching the net. He hit 29 winners to 30 errors but he outplayed his opponent and that's why he got the win.

Gasquet was once a very promising prospect and it's sad to see all that great talent go to waste. He has a smooth all-round game but a lot of that is wasted because he stands so far back. His backhand is world class but his forehand is merely average, as is his serve. His head also doesn't do him any favours in the big points, either.

I don't know what his coaches are telling him, but in this day and age you can't play the way he does unless you are a great defender like Monfils, Nadal, or Ferrer. When playing guys like Federer, Djokovic, and Rafa, getting pushed behind the baseline and giving them time to attack is a recipe for disaster. That's what happened in the match vs Roger - given time, Fed was able to work the ball around and didn't really feel rushed at all. His backhand even held up well against Gasquet's.

For Federer to advance to the knockout stages, he will need to beat Del Potro in his final round robin match. Any victory will guarantee him a spot in the semis where he would play Rafael Nadal.

Since it could be Fed's last match of the season, I expect he will give it his all. The win against the Argentine in Paris last week will help his confidence going into the match, and he certainly knows the game plan against the former US Open champion - keep him off balance with variety and serve well.

Best of luck Roger, your fans are with you.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Federer loses to Djokovic again

Roger Federer lost to Novak Djokovic in three sets for the second time in four days, as he fell in his first round robin match at the World Tour Finals 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-2 in a match that could not be called high-quality, but was still competitive and dramatic for the majority.

Both players started out in fine form and the first set was solid. The difference ended up being the 9th game, where Federer had a break point and hit a forehand winner just inches off the line. Djokovic held, and Fed played a loose game, and bam, the set was "finis."

The world #2 broke in the opening game of the second, but Fed broke right back after a very uncharacteristic game from the Serb. Federer would then break again and served for the set at 5-4, but was unfortunately broken. He had his chances but Djokovic played some great defense when he had to on the big points in that game. The set went to a tiebreak and Fed reeled off five straight points to take the match to a decider. In that final set, Novak broke in the opening game and split the match open with a double break, and just like in Paris, he rode off to the victory without too much trouble.

The most important point of the match probably ended up being that break point Federer had at 4-4 in the first set. So close yet so far from potentially serving out the first set, and if he did that, he could have won in straights. Credit to Djokovic though, he raised his game in the third and wore Federer down.

That's the big difference between Roger now and a few years ago - he can't seem to raise his level with the snap of his fingers like he used to. Back then, if he was struggling he would just say "enough's enough" and changed gears to the point that he could just pull away. He was so good that he could do that. Now, with his loss of power and speed, he can't.

He doesn't have the finishing power to end points early against elite defenders like Djokovic, if he tries to win a baseline battle against Nole, he won't come out looking good. A few years ago he could easily hang with Novak from the baseline, now he can't. He needs his serve to be working to have a chance and he must take the opportunities on return when they come.

That's the other problem when it comes to facing Djokovic now. You give that man enough looks at a 2nd serve and he will hurt you dearly. Of course, he is also the best first serve returner in the world, but even now when Roger is getting a lot of first serves in play, he'll hold a lot of the time against a high quality returner like that, just because Fed can still spread the service box as well as anyone and keep returners off balance.

Even when he plays Del Potro, who is one of his toughest opponents these days, at least there is a specific gameplan that works very well in comparison to when he plays the Serb. Fed can outmaneuver the big guy from the baseline and obviously he's not anywhere near the defender Djokovic is. He can win more free points on his serve because he doesn't return as well.

When playing Nole, Fed is forced to go bigger than he feels comfortable with because of how hard it is to get the ball by him, and that's when the errors start piling up (Roger alluded to this in his press conference). Even if he isn't being barraged with attacks to his backhand, Djokovic defends so well that he can keep himself in points and eventually turn them around because his transition game is second to none.

The courts at the O2 Arena this year are a little slower, and that certainly makes matters worse in a match-up like this. Roger did a decent job of moving Novak around the court but he had a lot of trouble finishing the point. As I mentioned, Nole can just grind and grind until he forces an error from Fed, usually off the backhand side (or he gets a short ball and strikes).

Federer plays Richard Gasquet next, who lost to Del Potro in 3 sets. If Roger is on his game, he should win, but of course with Fed this year you never know. However, compared to Djokovic, he must see Gasquet as a big step down in quality. Roger won't have any problems getting past the Frenchman's average defending, can win more free points with his serve, and can take advantage of Richard's less than stellar serve to get into games and crank the pressure up. Needless to say it's a must win match if Roger wants a shot at getting past the group stage. I hope he brings his best.

Until Thursday (when Fed plays),


Saturday, November 02, 2013

Federer loses to Djokovic in Bercy

Roger Federer fell short against the red-hot Novak Djokovic, losing 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 against the current #2 in a match that was another step forward in the Swiss' road back to great form after a tough season.

Federer played a near perfect opening set, using his unmatched court craft and variety to keep Djokovic off balance, and he attacked the net frequently which paid great dividends. He brought out the slices, drop shots, and played his brand of precision tennis to great success. Djokovic didn't play a good set, but he does struggle against guys that can throw him off rhythm and Roger was doing just that.

He got off to a great start in the second, breaking in the first game. He couldn't consolidate however, and from then on Djokovic turned into the player he could be, and the momentum went his way the rest of the match. He served great, returned like the best returner in the world that he is, and hit his groundstrokes harder and deeper. And he cut out the unforced errors, making things even tougher on Federer. Basically, Roger imposed his game in the first set, and he won the set. In the second, Djokovic imposed his game on Federer, and he won. In the third, the energy seemed to drain out of Roger's body and it was all but over as the Serb played a fantastic set.

This was certainly a "good" loss for Federer if you believe in that, as I do. He took a set off the most in-form player in the world and he showed that he can still compete with the best in the world at 32 years of age. It was his 9th match in 12 days so maybe fatigue played a factor, probably more mental than physical as he was moving great out there.

His serve percentage dropped off after the first set, but that had a lot to do with Djokovic's returning, as he was dialed in from the end of the first set (the 5-4 game) to the end of the match. He also served a lot better in the last two sets and even though we rarely think of Novak's serve as a great shot, he has become deadly accurate and consistent with his delivery. Long gone are the days when he would serve more double faults than aces.

As for Roger, after the first he sort of abandoned his successful gameplan of slicing his backhand and attacking the net, but in his defense, it's hard to play that kind of tennis when you are facing consistent, deep hitting. As I said, Djokovic played the last two sets on his terms and that led to him winning 12 of the final 16 games.

All in all, everything is looking very positive after the last two weeks in Basel and Paris. I would say Fed is 85-90% back to his best level, and hopefully he puts it all together at the World Tour Finals and in a few months at the Australian Open. There are still some kinks to work out, like being more consistent on the serve and playing a game set in and set out that will lead to his success (basically the way he played in the first set). The good news is that he looks great physically - he's digging out forehands on the stretch, and is defending the width of the court impeccably well for his age. It has to be said that for the amount of matches the guy has played in his career, he still has better athleticism than most 25 year-olds on tour.

Looking forward to the World Tour Finals, preview coming up.

Until then.....

Friday, November 01, 2013

Federer beats Del Potro, into Paris semis

Roger Federer ended a 3-match losing streak against Juan Martin del Potro with a solid 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win to place himself into the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Masters, where he will face Novak Djokovic for the first time this year.

Federer opened the proceedings with a trademark minute-long love hold service game. That was the first sign of sharp play, and he would break in the 4th game and in the next game he played a few genius points in a row, hitting a masterful stab volley winner and following it with two spectacular drop shots that the big Argentine didn't even chase after. A few games later he served it out to cap off a brilliant set of tennis.

How great was it?  He hit 17 winners to 4 errors, and served at 77%, was 6/6 at the net, and only lost a few points on serve in 5 service games. It was arguably the best set he has played all season, or at least since the Australian Open.

The second set was more of the same, with Roger holding easily and Delpo battling to hang in there. To his credit, he did, and kept his nose in front until 4-5, when Fed slipped up a bit and that opening gave Delpo just enough leeway to break and win the set (or steal it, you could say). It was an odd way to end the set because up until that final game Federer was losing less than a point per service game. But as I said, credit to Delpo who stayed in it with some good play (and it needed to be good, because Fed was rolling).

In the third, they both held their first two service games, and then Roger got the break in the 5th. That edge wouldn't last long though as on the other side of the changeover Delpo broke back with a stunning forehand pass, and they were back even. But once again, not for long, as Roger broke back again, and he broke for a third consecutive time at 3-5 to seal the deal, his second win over a top 10 player this year and first over a top 5.

Federer played one of his best matches this season, maybe the best, and apart from a few blips, he was the better player throughout and was rewarded with a great victory. Del Potro looked a bit tired, which is understandable considering all the tennis he has played since the US Open (this was his 18th match) but I don't know if he would have won even if he was fresher. The Swiss was moving him around the court wonderfully and Delpo wasn't giving as many opportunities as he would have liked to sit back and pound forehand after forehand to Federer's backhand.

As for Roger, he is showing good form at the moment and appears to be hitting his stride before the World Tour Finals. He served today at 70% to go along with the 75% he served at against Kohlschreiber, and his improved efficiency on the delivery has certainly helped him win more matches lately. He's also looking very healthy and moving around the court as well as he was last year. Last but not least, he looks very motivated, and even when he drops an uncharacteristic game he isn't letting that get him down and he's going right back to business.

In the semis he'll play Djokovic who is undefeated since the US Open. Djokovic dismantled Stan Wawrinka 61 64  The world #2 is certainly the favourite in this one but with the way Roger is playing right now (and maybe more importantly, the way he is serving right now), it should be a very competitive match. If Fed loses I wouldn't be too disappointed, provided he puts in a good effort, and I think he will. This match is about judging where his form is against a very in-form player in Djokovic who is the favourite to win the World Tour Finals next week. It will take an amazing performance to take down the Serb and I'm certainly not expecting it, but I'm hoping to see a great match filled with wonderful shotmaking.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Federer Sails into Bercy Quarters

Roger Federer booked a spot in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Masters with a smooth 6-3, 6-4 win over Philipp Kohlschreiber. In a seemingly rare occurrence this season, the Swiss wasn't broken and served a high first serve percentage of 75% en route to breaking once in each set to get the job done in just over an hour.

Federer plays Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals, and this will be their second meeting in 6 days, as the Argentine edged Federer in the Basel final last week. The big man came back from a set down to defeat Grigor Dimitrov.

Elsewhere, Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet clinched their spots in the World Tour Finals when Milos Raonic lost to Tomas Berdych 7-6(13), 6-4. The Swiss #2 advanced with a win over Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-2 and Richard Gasquet clinically beat Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 also and set a new high for wins in a season with 50. Nice season Richard!

Novak Djokovic lost the opening set against John Isner in a tiebreak but played an extraordinary two sets to win 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-2 and David Ferrer bounced Gilles Simon 6-2, 6-3.

As for Federer, he looks like he's gaining confidence with each match and from what he has said, he is completely healthy. From what you can see with your own eye, he looks very good physically - moving quicker than earlier in the year and serving better, which indicates that his back is giving him no problems.

The match against Del Potro should be interesting. Roger will certainly be up to play as he was in Basel and if he can play as well as he did in that match he will have every opportunity to win the match, providing that he stays sharp and doesn't give away a service game or two like he did last week. Having only one win over a top 10 player all year, it would be nice to see him win and it would be a great boost before London.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Federer Qualifies for London

Roger Federer secured his 12th consecutive appearance at the year-ending World Tour Finals, formerly Masters Cup, with a 6-4, 6-4 win over South African Kevin Anderson of the 2nd round of the BNP Paribas Masters.

Federer got a good start, breaking in the first game of the match, and then held serve the rest of the way to grab the first set. He started smoothly again in the second set, getting a double break and going up 5-1 before he ran into a little scare. Serving for the match at 5-2, he was broken by the big man on his 4th break point faced. On his second time serving out the match, he went down 15-40 but used his serve to bail him out of trouble and a few points later he won the match.

Overall, he was pretty solid except for the blip at the end of the match. Though to be fair to him, something clicked in Anderson's head after he went down 5-1 and he started playing much better. After playing poorly for much of the match, suddenly he was not missing and finding the range on his groundstrokes, and it looked like it took Fed by surprise.

Nevertheless, the South African could have been very dangerous and he showed at the end what kind of threat he could have posed had he been more solid throughout the whole match. Next up is Philipp Kolschreiber, who defeated Tommy Haas easily. Roger should win the match in straights but Kohli is a good player and can't be taken lightly.

And now, Roger has a spot in the World Tour Finals where he has 6 wins and two other finals in the last 10 years. Even though he only has one win over a top 10 player all season, coming in January, he has always played some of his best tennis at the event, especially in London, and he will surely be looking to finish the year on a strong note.

Onwards and upwards,


Monday, October 28, 2013

Finally, a good week for Federer

Maybe coming home was just what Roger Federer needed to try and find some good form.

Though the Swiss legend lost in the finals of the Swiss Indoors to Juan Martin del Potro in a tight, high quality 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-4 loss, it was his best tournament in months and he displayed some wonderful tennis as well as a gritty determination that has been lacking this year.

Before the tournament began, Federer had only been in 5 semifinals this season (Australian Open, Dubai, Rome, Halle, and Hamburg), and only 2 finals (Rome and Halle). He had lost many matches against players he was favoured to beat, and any time he got a little momentum, it slipped away with a bad loss, usually in an early round. But not this week, not in Basel.

The week started with a fairly routine win over Adrian Mannarino. Then he found himself in some trouble against the dangerous Denis Istomin, down a set. This time, the great champion didn't let another winnable match fall through his fingers, and he played a solid two sets to win the match.

The danger was far from over though, as his quarterfinal opponent was Grigor Dimitrov, who was on a roll and had just won his first career title in Stockholm, against a top 5 player in David Ferrer. In a highly anticipated match between the old and the new, the old guy came out on top, using his experience and court craft to upend the youngster.

The semifinal wasn't any easier; in fact, it proved to be much tougher, against a rising star in Vasek Pospisil, an explosive fresh face who broke through in the summer. The match started out great for the Swiss, but he lost concentration at the worst time, serving for the match, and he lost the second set. In the third, he threw away a service game but fought right back, and fought hard the rest of the way until he eventually won the match. It was the kind of contest he had been losing all year - and it followed many of the same patterns: play great in patches and then out of nowhere, the wheels fall off leaving his fans, and surely even himself, confused and disappointed. But he won this match and gave himself the chance to win his home tournament once more.

As aforementioned, he went up against Del Potro, who has been very in-form recently and could be seen as the 2nd best player on tour since the US Open. Given that the Argentine was in form and Federer had been struggling all year, most expected that the big man would win comfortably.

Del Potro won the match, but it sure was anything but comfortable. He took the first set in a tiebreak after a pair of lucky bounces - one when his shot hit the net and bounced over and the other one a few points later when Federer's shot hit the net and didn't. Roger didn't let losing the first set deter him, however, and he played one of his best sets of tennis all year, taking it 6-2. In the first game of the set he lost serve in a game he practically have away with a few double faults, and though Federer had a couple of break chances the next game, he was denied and Delpo played a great set the rest of the way to grab the title.

When all is said and done, it was a great week for Roger and he can take plenty of positives from it. He won two 3-set matches and he looked like the real Roger Federer against a top player in the prime of his career, and someone who has given him plenty of trouble the last few years. In the match, Fed was hitting cleaner and with more confidence - there were far fewer shanks and mishits than usual this season - and he was serving much better, especially from the deuce side where he had his serve up the T dialed in, and hit many aces with it. He kept up with Del Potro's big and consistent hitting, and he even defended quite well, showing that he was healthy. He also looked very energized and focused, which proves that he really wanted to win the title. Of course he didn't, but there really is nothing to feel bad about when looking back at this past week.

Up next is Paris where Fed needs one win to qualify for the World Tour Finals, and that win will need to come against Kevin Anderson or Mikhail Youzhny, the latter of whom took out David Ferrer in the Valencia final on Sunday. If Roger carries over the same form he showed in the final against Delpo, he should beat either of them, but of course nothing is a given. Even though it looks like Roger might be getting some of his form and confidence back, he has to be focused on keeping it.

If nothing else, doing well in Paris and the World Tour Finals will act as positive reinforcement heading into the offseason where he will be doing everything he can to prepare for what hopes to be a much better 2014 season.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Federer fights into Basel final

Roger Federer made things more difficult for himself than they had to be, but in the end he prevailed 6-3, 6-7(3), 7-5 against Canadian Vasek Pospisil in the semifinals of his home tournament in Basel. He will be chasing his 6th title at the event when he goes up against Juan Martin del Potro.

As was a trademark of Federer's in his glory days, the Swiss started fast and got an early break, which then led to a 5-3 lead when he got another one to close out the set. So far, so good. He carried that momentum into the second set and he broke in the 8th game to serve for the match, but that's when the wheels started to fall off. He was broken and basically let the Canadian right back in the match. The set went to a tiebreak and Pospisil played a solid one while Roger did not. One set apiece when Fed and the whole Swiss crowd must have felt the match should have been over.

In the fourth game of the deciding set, things were going smoothly for Roger, taking a 40-0 lead on his serve. And then he played a catastrophic 5 points to lose serve, and you began to feel that maybe it just wasn't his day.

But then he broke back to love.

A few games later, at 3-4, Roger needed to save a break point and did so, and then he turned up the pressure at 5-5 on the Canadian's serve and he eventually managed to break after a long game. He served out the match in tense fashion, but his final serve wasn't returned, and he won the match to get himself into only his 3rd final of this almost-complete season.

It was one of those great "ugly" wins that Roger has had over the years, and watching it live was very tense to watch as a fan. The first half of the match was pretty smooth and Fed was playing good tennis, and then he really had to fight in the 3rd set to pull through. It seemed like he wasn't just battling Pospisil out there on court, but his own mind as well. He looked unsure of what shot to hit on many occasions and time after time he hit 2nd serve returns right in the centre of the court for Pospisil to hit into a corner. No doubt he's still low on confidence and trying to get himself on the right track, and this week is a big step in the right direction with a few hard-fought victories that he won without playing his best.

So the final is a rematch of last year's, Federer vs del Potro. Every time these two have met Roger has been the favourite but not this time - the Argentine has been on quite a roll since losing early at the US Open, winning the title in Tokyo and making the final of the Shanghai Masters, beating Nadal in the semis and losing in three to Djokovic.

If I was a betting man, my money would go on the big guy, but I know enough that you can never count Roger out. It's a different match and a different day, and he could come out flying and confident, or he could come out flat and tired. Whatever happens, I consider this to be a very successful week for Fed, and there is no shame in losing to Delpo who is basically in the prime of his career.

Hopefully it will be a good match,


Friday, October 25, 2013

Federer beats Dimitrov, into semis

Roger Federer scored a big win over 22 year-old Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 7-6(2) that launched him into the semifinals of a tournament for only the 6th time this season.

Roger started off in shaky fashion, going down 0-40 on his first service game but he fought to hold serve and not go down the early break that has been so regular this year. He couldn't get into the first three Dimitrov service games but after a love hold in the 5th game, the Swiss tightened the screws, getting the break at 3-3 and then the double break to close out the set.

In the second, one bad service game that featured a couple double faults cost Roger his serve. Skip ahead to later in the set, down 3-5, Fed saved a few set points and then broke back when Dimitrov missed an overhead. At 5-5, the Bulgarian went down 0-30 but to his credit fought back and forced a tiebreak. The most successful tiebreak player ever gained a quick mini-break and went up 5-2 before serving the match out.

It wasn't a classic performance by any means, but it was a win Federer needed. He fought hard, and apart from the one gaffe in the 2nd set, played a mentally solid match. Midway through the first set he started to find his range on his groundstrokes and showed glimpses of the real Roger, the one who plays freely without fighting his mind. Dimitrov did choke a little bit at the end of the 2nd set, but you know Fed took that gladly and it helped him cross the finish line.

Next up is Vasek Pospisil in the semis and the winner of that will very likely play del Potro in the final, who takes on Roger-Vasselin in the semis, the guy who took out Wawrinka. If all goes well, we will see a rematch of last year's final. But first things first, and that's Pospisil, who is no slouch and has the ability to hurt the Fed.

Onwards and upwards,


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Federer vs Dimitrov in Dream Match-Up

On Friday, the tennis world will finally see a match that has been anticipated for a long time - Roger Federer vs Grigor Dimitrov.

The Bulgarian rising star has basically modeled his game around Federer, and a match between the Swiss Maestro and the one that is called "BabyFed" will finally take place in the quarterfinals of the Swiss Open in Basel.

Dimitrov has been on a roll lately, as he won his first career title last week in Stockholm, beating David Ferrer in the final. The 22 year-old could finally be living up to his potential and it should be a fun encounter between two very talented shotmakers. With one on the rise and one on the decline, you know the young Dimitrov will want to get that win over the legend who inspired his game.

Federer's first two matches weren't great, beating Adrian Mannarino in straight sets and taking out Denis Istomin in three. In both those matches he showed hiccups that have plagued him all year, getting broken at inopportune times and losing sets because of it. The good news is that he played two very good sets against Istomin and after saving multiple some break points early in the 3rd set, he went on to play some scintillating tennis.

There is no doubt that Federer's confidence has been low - we have known that for months now. The only way to get confidence back is to win. Gaining good form is a process and doesn't just happen in one match out of the blue, and carrying momentum from one match to another helps to keep the positivity flowing. This year, that hasn't happened. Roger's longest winning streak has been 5 matches and he has played in only five semifinals all season. Every time he gets some momentum going, it gets stopped with an unfortunate or uncharacteristic loss.

He has admitted that he made some mistakes with his scheduling, like choosing to play on in Indian Wells instead of withdrawing, and playing Hamburg and Gstaad after his heartbreaking Wimbledon defeat to Sergiy Stakhovsky.

Knowing Federer, he will be very motivated to win this match as he always enjoys playing the young guys (see all his matches with Raonic and Tomic). Dimitrov is playing well now, but if Roger plays the way we know he can, he should win. He has to guard against those lapses in concentration where he plays a bad service game, because on the flip side, Dimitrov will be extremely motivated to win (though everyone wants to get a win over Roger to tell their grandkids). 

Hope for a great match, and this...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Federer Returns Home to Basel

Roger Federer will return to his home country looking to boost his chances to make the World Tour Finals in a few weeks at the O2 Arena in London. Looking to win his second title of the year, coming back to a tournament he so dearly loves and has had great success at, with 5 titles and 2 finals since 2006.

He will start his road to the title against Adrian Mannarino, who he took out in straight sets in the 3rd round of the US Open. In the second round he will face Denis Istomin or Horacio Zeballos, and in the quarters, he could have a much anticipated match with Grigor Dimitrov, who won his maiden title in Stockholm against David Ferrer in a big upset. Should he get by all those matches, which as we know this year is no guarantee, he'll likely play Tomas Berdych in the semis and Juan Martin del Potro in the final.

Given what has happened this year, all you can do as a fan now is take it one match at a time, as hard as that is. However, this tournament is very important for Roger not only to make the World Tour Finals, but also to see what his form is like against the top 10, where he could play Berdych, who is a tough opponent for him. Even if he was to make the semis and lose to Berdych, I think it's crucial that he finds out how his game holds up right now in a big match against a player that is expected to beat him right now. He raised his level against Nadal in Cincinnati and he'd need to have a similar performance against the Czech to make the final.

But first things first, one match at a time. Right now Mannarino is the entire focus and then we go from there.

Hoping for a good tournament for Roger and a happy ending. Home sweet home!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Federer Suffers Tough Loss

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.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Federer wins in Shanghai Return

Playing in his first match since losing to Tommy Robredo in the 4th round of the US Open over a month ago, Roger Federer was victorious with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Andreas Seppi of Italy in the 2nd round of the Shanghai Masters.

Seppi, ranked 23rd in the world, was going to be a solid opponent for Roger returning after a long absence, and he was. Trying to shake the rust off and find his timing, the Swiss was broken in the 5th game but responded well, breaking right back. Seppi threatened to break the next few Federer service games but Roger held tough in classic Roger fashion. He played a good return game to get the break to win the 1st set, a crucial set for him to win knowing that he was having to work hard.

In the second set Roger began to raise his level and produced some very good tennis.  He broke early to get out to a 3-0 lead and started to find his timing and confidence as the match progressed. At 5-3 when he was serving it out, he went down 0-30 but hit a wicked 2nd serve ace that barely clipped the line and then fired an ace out wide. Two big serves and two big points, as he went on to hold and win the match.

After such a long time off, nobody was expecting a vintage Federer performance, and it wasn't. He struggled at times on the serve and off the ground, but he fought well and worked on the kinks throughout the match. The good news is that he hit some good serves on important points and his net game was working brilliantly. His fitness looked very good as well and in the 2nd set he played one magnificent point where he was running side to side but defended with the grace of a younger, faster man.

Next up is Gael Monfils, who took out Vasek Pospisil (who took out Richard Gasquet). Fed hasn't played the Frenchman since the quarterfinals of Roland Garros in 2011. Roger should win but Gael is a good player and has beaten Fed in this part of the year before, in Paris in 2010.

On a final note, I see that Roger is becoming more comfortable on Twitter as of late, answering many questions with the hashtag #askRF. We know that Roger has a good sense of humour, but it really shines through in writing.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Djokovic vs Nadal in US Open final

For the 6th time in their careers, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will be facing each other in a major final. The top two players in the world will do battle in a Monday finish, new for this year, and whoever wins the match could gain an advantage in finishing the year at #1.

As usual with matches between Djokovic and Nadal, it will be a war of attrition and both guys will push each other to the limit. Both have been in very solid form throughout the tournament, though Djokovic has been tested far more, being taken to 4 against Mikhail Youzhny in the quarterfinal and of course to 5 sets by Stan Wawrinka in the semis. Nadal has only lost his serve once in the tournament (to Gasquet in the semi) and has only dropped one set, to Kohlschreiber in the 4th round.

Nadal is undefeated on hardcourt this season and is looking to win his 13th Grand Slam title, while Djokovic hasn't won a title since Monte Carlo in the spring and will be looking to win his 7th Grand Slam title. He is playing in his 7th consecutive hardcourt major final dating back to the US Open in 2010.

In some ways, I see this match similar to Agassi vs Sampras in the US Open final of 1995. Agassi was on a roll that summer, beating Pete in the Montreal final and had all the momentum. This summer, Nadal has had all the momentum and beat Djokovic in Montreal. Sampras ended up beating Agassi in the US Open final, and we will see if Djokovic can win and get his second victory over Nadal this year.

We all know Djokovic has the best return in the world and he will need to use it to full effect. Nadal hasn't faced a great returner yet and has had no trouble on his serve all tournament, and that should change dramatically against the Serb. It could also shock him initially to not be able to take control of the point off the first shot. The man they call Nole will need to also use his backhand down the line effectively to keep the ball away from Rafa's monstrous forehand.

Nadal pretty much needs to play the way he did in Montreal - flatten out his forehand more and take the ball up the line. He has been the hottest guy on tour the whole year and his confidence could be the most dangerous facet of his game.

I'm taking Djokovic in 4 because I think he will bring his best game and he will hurt Nadal's serve, but in reality I could easily see the match going to a 5th, which would be great for all the viewers.

May the final be good,


Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Federer Stunned out of US Open

In a result that nobody could have predicted, Roger Federer bowed out of the US Open with a shocking 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-3 loss to Tommy Robredo, a man he was 10-0 against before this fateful night.

It isn't a tough loss to explain - Robredo was the better player. However, even though Federer lost in straight sets, one could argue he should have won the second and third sets, where he had 12 break points combined and failed to take even one. In a career where he has played the big points so well, he played them at a very poor level on this night. His body didn't let him down, but his mind did. Usually so great with shot selection, time and time again he made the wrong decisions that led to throwing away break point chance after break point chance.

Credit to Robredo, he played well and showed the confidence that is needed to beat a top player. He believed he would win right from the start, and that, coupled with Roger's poor play on the big points, enabled him to win as easily as he did.

It was a bitter end to a disappointing Grand Slam season, though he would have likely gone out to Rafael Nadal on Wednesday even if he had gotten through to the quarterfinals. As usual after any Federer loss these days, the "R" word comes up by fans and the media and we all wonder what magic the 32 year-old has left.

It isn't past realism that Federer could win another major title in 2014. After all, it would only require two great weeks of play and perhaps a bit of fortune. But if this year has showed us anything, it is that there is no more of that famous consistency left in the Swiss' game. He looked very good in his first three matches here and then he made decisions like a futures level player against Robredo. At this stage, we just do not know which Roger Federer will show up. The one that brings back memories of his best days, or this version, the frustrated, confused shell of a once-elite player.

Now, about all we can ask is that Fed takes a break, trains hard, and comes full-force for the indoor season to give a good ending to a bad year.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Federer in Last 16 at US Open

Roger Federer made excessively quick work in his third round match against Adrian Mannarino by a score of 6-3, 6-0, 6-2 in under 90 minutes. The Frenchman has been playing the best tennis of his career thus far but was made to look very average by the unrelenting attack of the 17-time Slam champ.

Right from the start the Swiss made his intentions known that he was going to attack Mannarino's 2nd serves. And attack them he did, over and over and over again. In the fourth game of the match he fired three forehand returns off weak 2nd serves and he emphatically grabbed the break. It was literally as easy a match as you could ask for after that. By the third set, Roger was in exhibition mode, trying some crowd-pleasing shots and looking completely untroubled.

34 winners, 20 errors, 19/24 at the net, 92% behind his first serve, all excellent numbers. He also hit 13 return winners and only lost 18 total points on return (in 12 service games).

The big point I want to get across from this match was that Roger was supremely aggressive on the return, many times running around his backhand on the ad side to hit forehands. He didn't want to start the point neutral or in a defensive position, he took the initiative. That is a great thing to see and he will need that effective returning if he wants to beat Nadal in the potential upcoming quarterfinal. But I will go into complete detail about the gameplan Roger must use if and when that time comes.

Up next in the round of 16 is the veteran Tommy Robredo who is the 19th seed at this tournament. He has found rejuvenation after a long battle with injuries. He reached the quarterfinals of the French Open, winning three straight matches from two sets down, the first man to do that since the great Henri Cochet did so in 1927. He will be a tough opponent for Fed and if we know anything, it's that he will force Roger to play well to win comfortably. I expect a tight three sets.

To finish up this post, I want to talk about Lleyton Hewitt's upset of Juan Martin del Potro on Friday. It was an awesome match from the 2001 US Open champion and his trademark fighting spirit was on full display against the 2009 champion.

While watching, I marveled at Hewitt's compact groundstrokes and his innate ability to change the direction of the ball - and many times he went for it on the big points, and it paid off. I had an absolute blast watching it and the Aussie reminded me why he was my first favourite player when I was just a decade old.

As for del Potro, it's clear that his left wrist is still bothering him. He can't hit through his backhand like he should be able to and he rarely ever goes down the line with it these days. His massive forehand is the one shot that has kept him at the top of the game. It must be disappointing having two exits before the Round of 16 this year and one missed Slam (which he would have had a great chance at going deep). He is one of my favourite players so I hope he can string some form together at the end of the year.

Hewitt will take on Evgeny Donskoy in the third round and he could play Tommy Haas in the fourth for the chance to take on the World #1. I would love to see a match between the 32 year-old Lleyton and the 35 year-old Tommy just to show all the new tennis fans the brilliance of the early 2000s.

 Until next time,


PS - I am going to be having some news after the US Open about, well, I'll just say ... expansion.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Federer Sails into Round Three

Roger Federer made quick work of Carlos Berlocq 63 62 61 in the 2nd round of the US Open on Thursday to move on in the final major of the season.

The Swiss Maestro was in no mood to play around and was sharp right from the start of the match. He wound up taking the opening set in half an hour. They traded breaks in the first two games of the second before Roger went up another two breaks and it was much of the same in the third set as Roger handed out a breadstick to the veteran clay-court specialist from Argentina.

It was a better performance than his opening match and the quality of his opponent was much better also. Berlocq didn't really play that badly, but he was obviously overmatched. The 30 year-old handled himself well and the contest was sprinkled with some brilliant points throughout.

Federer hit 37 winners to 25 errors, was 28/40 at the net, and broke serve 7 times in 13 attempts. He didn't have his best serving day but he didn't need it either. If he practiced after his first round win because he felt the match had little rhythm, he didn't need to after this one as there were many baseline rallies with the consistent and intense Berclocq.

Next up for Fed is Adrian Mannarino, who upset American #2 Sam Querrey in 4 sets. The Frenchman is someone who makes the most out of his game but anything but a straight sets win would be a surprise - in their two previous meetings at Wimbledon and the Paris Indoors in 2011, Roger won comfortably.

Elsewhere in the draw....

On Wednesday, Andy Murray unsurprisingly rolled by Michael Llodra in a highly entertaining match that featured many cat-and-mouse points and creative shotmaking. Juan Martin del Potro had a tougher go of things, needing 4 sets and 4 hours to beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Rafael Nadal cruised into the third round with a simple victory over Rogerio Dutra Silva in the Thursday night session.

Round three will see an interesting match between del Potro and Lleyton Hewitt, a battle of two US Open champions. It could be a tricky test for the big man but he should come through.

As it stands, Djokovic should make the quarters with ease as he plays Benjamin Becker in the second round, then Jarkko Nieminen or Joao Sousa, and then Marcel Granollers or Rajeev Ram. Murray has a similarly smooth path, with Leonardo Mayer in the second round, then Donald Young or Florian Mayer, and then Tobias Kamke or Denis Istomin. Del Potro's biggest test to the quarters could be Tommy Haas in the 4th round, and for Tomas Berdych, it could be Stan Wawrinka.

On the sadder side, James Blake was defeated by Ivo Karlovic on Wednesday night in 5 sets to send his proud career into the sunset. The American lost a two set lead but it has to be said that the tall Croatian has improved his overall game a lot over the years. His serve may not be as powerful as it once was, but his forehand, movement, and net game are all improved. Even his return has stepped up, and many times the big man ran around his slice backhand return to hammer a forehand to which Blake had no answer.

It's always sad when a player you enjoy watching retires, and there have certainly been many of them over the last few years - Marat Safin, Carlos Moya, Ivan Ljubicic, Fernando Gonzalez, Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and now Blake.

Blake's career may not have been as good as it could have been, be played the game big and on his terms, with his massive forehand and athletic quickness. But as much as he was a joy to watch on the court, he was even better off it, and to see him have as successful a career as he has had after his broken neck in 2004 and the death of his father.

You will be missed James, from a big fan.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Federer into R2 at US Open

Roger Federer's path towards a 6th US Open started comfortably on Tuesday with a 63 62 75 win over Slovenian Grega Zemlja in an hour and a half. The match was scheduled for opening night but rain postponed it.

It was hardly a masterclass from the 7th seed (that sounds weird, doesn't it?), but he got the job done without much difficulty at all. With the exception of one game in the third set where he was broken his serve was solid, and he shortened points frequently by coming to net, winning 20 of 21 points in the forecourt and hitting 33 winners to 16 errors.

From my experience in watching majors, fans try to judge too quickly how a player will play in the later rounds of a tournament by how he does in the first and second rounds against, for the majority of the time, opponents who pose very little threat. If a player wins 62 62 62, then he looks great and the predictions start about the second week - but if he struggles even the slightest bit then that doubt creeps in.

Right now, we know that Federer has a potential meeting with Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. But how he does in the first four rounds does not in any way give us the ability to predict how he might play vs Nadal in the quarters. The win today was solid and he faced no real trouble, and that's what matters. None of the top guys aim to play their absolute best in the early rounds unless, of course, they are forced to.

Federer will play Carlos Berlocq of Argentina, the intense ball of fire who is playing his best tennis now at 30 years of age. It should be a straightforward win along the lines of 63 62 64 unless the Warclocq brings out some of his magic.

Elsewhere in the draw so far, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, and Richard Gasquet have all advanced easily to the 2nd round. Other notables advancing were Milos Raonic, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Tommy Haas, John Isner, Julien Benneteau, Bernard Tomic, Feliciano Lopez, Nikolay Davydenko, Tommy Robredo, and American Jack Sock. Nicolas Almagro was upset while 28th seed Juan Monaco retired. Ernests Gulbis, the 30th seed, was upset in 5 sets and Fernando Verdasco was outed by Ivan Dodig.

While the top guys had smooth matches to the round of 64, many young guns bowed out in the opening round disappointingly. 11th seed Kei Nishikori lost in straights to Dan Evans. 14th seed Jerzy Janowicz, semifinalist at Wimbledon, crashed out to Maximo Gonzalez, who may be best known for being Roger Federer's first round opponent in his 13th Grand Slam title at the US Open in 2008. Granted, the Pole had a back injury, but it's still disappointing. Grigor Dimitrov, who now may be most famous for dating Maria Sharapova, lost to Joao Sousa in 5 sets, 6-2 in the 5th. The Bulgarian, who has tons of untapped potential, still hasn't advanced past the 3rd round in a major and is now 22. Finally, Vasek Pospisil lost a two sets to none lead to Rogerio Dutra Silva, wasting 7 match points in the process. The Canadian who entered the top 40 with his semifinal run in Montreal a few weeks ago, lived up to the ever-persistent choker label and has proven again to still struggle outside Canada.

That paragraph will lead to another article about the rise (or lack thereof) of young talent in the game, but that is for another time.

Until Roger's next match,


PS - I heard that Roger practiced after his win, and if that was the case, then you know he's dead serious about giving everything at this US Open.

Friday, August 23, 2013

2013 US Open Draw Preview

If Roger Federer is going to come close to winning his 6th US Open and 18th major title, he may need to go through his biggest rival Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals.

This is the Swiss' projected path:

Round 1 – Grega Zemlja
Round 2 – Carlos Berlocq or Santiago Geraldo
Round 3 – Sam Querrey or Horacio Zeballos
Round 4 – Kei Nishikori or Tommy Robredo
Quarterfinals – Rafael Nadal or John Isner
Semifinals – David Ferrer or Richard Gasquet
Final – Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray

The first four rounds could have been a lot harder, so I'm pleased with that aspect of the draw. Having said that though, an easy draw on paper can turn dangerous and a hard draw can open up so you can never base too much on paper.

A match against Sam Querrey in the 3rd round should be the first test Roger faces in the tournament because of the American's big serve. Then playing in the 4th round against Nishikori  would be a challenge, but also a chance at revenge after the Madrid upset. However, the Japanese youngster may have to go through Marinko Matosevic or Tommy Robredo and that won't be any easy match.

The big match with Nadal awaits in the quarters, but we can't count the chickens before they hatch. They were set to play in the Wimbledon quarterfinals and of course they both went out early in surprising defeats.

The 2010 US Open champion starts his campaign against Ryan Harrison and then will very likely play Vasek Pospisil, who saw his ranking rise stratospherically with his semifinal run in Montreal a few weeks ago. One of Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco should be his 3rd round opponent, and then he may face big John Isner in a rematch of the Cincinnati final (or Philipp Kohlschreiber, the 22nd seed).

One thing I'm more than pleased about is that should Federer get by Nadal, or if Nadal goes out early, then his semifinal opponent based on seeding would be David Ferrer or Richard Gasquet. However, Ferrer has been in bad form recently since his French Open final and Gasquet hasn't made a Grand Slam quarter since Wimbledon 2007 when he made the semis. There is a very good chance we see a surprise in that quarter.

Bottom line is, if Federer had to go through Nadal, Murray, and Djokovic to win the title, that would be near impossible at this point with him being 32 and with it being so hard to handle the best-of-5 grind in Slams. With this draw set up though, if he can make the semis and play Ferrer, Gasquet, or anyone else, it would be a much easier task than facing Murray and he would hopefully have an easier match to prepare for a final against likely Murray or Djokovic.

As for the top half featuring last year's US Open final competitors, they both should make the quarterfinals with ease but there are a few speed bumps along the way.

For Djokovic, he could gace Grigor Dimitrov in the 3rd round, which could be a hard match or it could be simple, just like their 3rd round match at Roland Garros was, which the #1 won 62 62 63. His 4th round is projected to be played against Benoit Paire or Fabio Fognini while his quarterfinal opponent based on seeding should be Juan Martin del Potro.

For Murray, he has a smooth path until the quarterfinals where a match with Tomas Berdych or Stan Wawrinka could await. He could play Juan Monaco in the 3rd round and Nicolas Almagro or Andreas Seppi in the 4th round.

Overall, as a Federer fan I am pleased with his draw. Sure, it's not ideal that he got drawn with Nadal, but you never know what might happen. As for if they face off, I think Rafa would have the decided edge because of the best-of-5 format and his recent run of form, but I would not count Roger out. If he could play as he did in Cincinnati and keep his nerve in the big moments, he would have a chance. But that's a long way away and all this talk is best saved for later.

Have a good time watching the US Open. I will be in Maine on vacation for the first week of the tournament but I'll be writing and keeping up to date with everything that is going on.

Cheers, Kyle.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Federer suffers loss to Nadal in Cincinnati

Roger Federer gave Rafael Nadal all he could handle and played some vintage tennis under the lights in Cincinnati but he ultimately fell to his rival 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. The loss drops the all-time leader in weeks at #1 to #7 in the rankings, dropping him outside the top 5 for the first time in ten years.

There was much speculation about whether or not Federer, who has had a rough couple of months, would be able to challenge the in-form Nadal, even on the quick Cincinnati hardcourts where Federer has been champion five times. In the end, he challenged Nadal and then some.

Right from the start there was a sense that this wouldn't be a lopsided match. The first set was pretty even throughout the first ten games but Federer was playing very well, winning many points off his serve and holding easily. In the eleventh game the Swiss Maestro played like the Federer old on break point, hitting forehand after forehand after forehand to the Nadal backhand and eventually forcing the error to grab the first break of the set. He held with ease to close the set out, and needless to say, it was the best set of tennis Federer has played in months.

The second set was dead even as well though Nadal started to raise his level, by serving better and hitting his groundstrokes with more authority. In the tenth game, Rafa missed a few set point chances but prevailed in the end with one forehand winner and the match was going the distance.

At the start of the third set, Roger dropped his intensity and looked a little more tired, and he was broken under the weight of Nadal's relentlessness. In the end, that small lapse was the difference of the match. Roger kept hanging on and saved a few break points along the way before getting to 5-3 for his last stand. Nadal racked off the first three points but Roger saved them all. He then lost a deuce point, then saved another match point, then lost the deuce point, then saved another match point, then lost the deuce point (on an unlucky net cord), and then FINALLY, Nadal sailed a forehand winner down the line to win the match (or so we thought - hawkeye later revealed that the ball was out but Roger did not challenge).

In the end, it is a loss and another one to Rafael Nadal, bringing Roger's record against him to 10-21. But those numbers are really irrelevant at this point in time. What every Federer fan must take from this match is a positive outlook, because he hasn't looked that good in a very long time, perhaps not since the Australian Open.

He looked physically healthy, he was serving at a very high standard, and for a good while in the match he was beating Nadal in many of the baseline exchanges.  He was beating Nadal at his own game, hitting constantly to the backhand and only going to the forehand when there was a clear opening. He rarely sliced the ball and came over many backhand returns, something I and other Fed fans have been begging him to do.

Nadal did what Nadal does, which is rise to the occasion. But make no mistake, Roger forced Rafa to raise his game in order to win. The screws tightened and he became more aggressive because he knew he couldn't allow Roger to dictate the rallies any longer.

All in all, Fed can take so many positives from this match and from this week in general. His back looked fine, he got the groove back on his serve (2nd serve was great) and he finally showed some glimpses of the player Roger is when he plays to his potential, even now at 32.

He will be #7 heading into the US Open, but being #5 or #7 doesn't make a big difference - either way he will get Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, or Ferrer in his quarter (please Ferrer, God please Ferrer).

So in the end, even though he lost, I feel like Roger and his fanbase have good reason to be more optimistic about the rest of this year. Fed showed what he can do when healthy and I can't ask for a better time for Roger's form to get better than right before the US Open.



Thursday, August 15, 2013

Federer fights past Haas in Cincy

Roger Federer made his way to the quarterfinals of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati by rallying past Tommy Haas 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a match that saw the 17-time Slam champ come back from a set and a break down.

The first set was quite disastrous to say the least, and the German stormed off with it 6-1 on the back of two breaks. For the first half of the second set, it was much of the same story as Haas broke in the opening game to hold a firm grip on the match. Until the real Roger Federer showed up.

For the first 13 games of the match everything was going Haas' way. And then he played one loose game and allowed Roger back into it. From then on, the momentum slowly started turning to the Swiss' side. All in all, he ended up winning 5 of the last 6 games of the second set and headed into the third with momentum. In that deciding set, they split the first six games but then Roger went up another gear in the eighth game to break and then he hit a forehand winner on his first match point to seal the deal.

You can split this match into two halves, the first and the second. In the first, Roger was playing pretty poorly and showed the kind of form (or lack thereof) he's been showing much of this year. But in the second half, what we witnessed was closer to the old Roger, the one with the free flowing game and gleaming confidence.

The Fed served at 66% for the whole match, which is pretty decent overall. He hit 43 winners to 39 errors, and converted on 3 of 12 break point chances.

It was a scrappy win but right now that may be just what Roger needs. I think back to the come-from-behind win against Davydenko at Rotterdam last year where he was also down a set and a break and most think that the win in that contest raised his confidence and helped propel him to that magnificent run he had between February and August.

It is going to get a whole lot harder however as next up is Rafael Nadal, who overcame Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. Nadal has been in great form pretty much the entire year and backed up his great success on the clay this spring with a win in Montreal on the hardcourts last week. He did not look as sharp as usual against the young Bulgarian, but you can be rest assured that he'll have his A game against Roger in the quarters.

So what are Roger's chances of pulling off the upset? He is most certainly the underdog here, no matter how much Rafa will say that he is not the favourite. Fed must serve well and be patiently aggressive in order to succeed. The good news is that he appears to be healthy and has served very well in his first two matches. Also, the fast Cincinnati courts should help him win more free points than usual off his delivery. Being "patiently aggressive" basically means to not go for broke too early and work the point until an opening comes to go for the kill. Fed must approach the net intelligently and not give Rafa any momentum from hitting passing shots. And perhaps most importantly, Roger must return well. He needs to hit over the backhand as much as possible and stepping over to his backhand side before the serve would help things out to get a quicker jump on the ball.

Before the tournament my expectations were for Federer to make the quarterfinals and then from there see what happens. I won't be disappointed if Roger doesn't win, as it will take a great effort, but at the same time I wouldn't be surprised if Roger played a great match and shocked us all.

Hoping for the best tomorrow,


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Federer off to good start in Cincinnati

Roger Federer returned to the hardcourts with a 6-3, 7-6(7) win over 26th ranked Philipp Kohlschreiber in Cincinnati, where the Swiss Maestro has won five of the last eight years.

After the troubles with his back in Hamburg and Gstaad, and the general poor form over the last few months, there were some questions to be answered heading into this match. Roger didn't come back with a bang, but he did win in straight sets against a talented top 30 player, so it's a start.

The first set went smoothly enough as Roger served well and never looked uncomfortable. He wasted six break point chances in one game but the next time he had a chance he converted to go up 4-2. His back looked like a non-issue which is a very positive sign and his net play was very good, and he even used a little bit of serve-volley. It must be said that Kohlschreiber played an abysmal set and showed no self-belief on the court.

In the second, the German improved his play and broke in the sixth game when Roger double faulted on break point. However, I had a feeling Fed would break right back and he did. The set went to a tiebreak which Roger went down 2-0 but then reeled off five straight points, up a mini-break. Kohlschreiber got back to even though and saved the first match point he faced. He then had a set point in which Roger served wide and forced an errant reply, but the ball was actually out, and there was no challenge. A lucky break for Fed at such a crucial point, but perhaps that is what he needs at the current time. He converted on his second match point for an unimpressive but businesslike win.

A win is a win, and right now, that is what Roger needs, no matter how pretty or ugly they may be. There were some negative signs, but there were also many positive signs that I saw - his serving, net game, and movement (and overall health). It was the kind of match where he was shaking off rust and at the same time felt little pressure from his opponent. His average service game lasted around 90 seconds the whole match, so that tells you how easily he was holding with the exception of the one break he surrendered.

Next up is Tommy Haas and Roger will need to improve his game there, but I have no doubt that he will. He knows this is a crucial point in the season and he needs a good run here. 

Friday, August 02, 2013

Federer to skip Montreal

In an unsurprising move, Roger Federer has pulled out of the Rogers Cup in Montreal next week.

After his opening round loss to Daniel Brands in Gstaad, the 17-time major champion said that his back had been giving him problems for a few weeks and that his status for Montreal was questionable. This withdrawal could have been expected from the time he announced the back injuries, and at this point in his career, health takes priority over everything else.

Even if Federer has done some good rehabbing of his back the last week and a half and gotten some necessary rest, it isn't worth playing Montreal because the back problems would have cut into his training time on-court. The way it looks now, he would have been hard-pressed to get past the quarterfinals, and with his recent form there is no guarantee he would have even reached that stage.

Personally, I just hope that the week off does him well and he can go into Cincinnati healthy and with a good dose of optimism. He has always done well at that event, being a five time champion, and perhaps going to a place where he has had so much success since 2005 will help shake him out of this slump. He is also defending champion, so having a good result there is important (though it will be difficult if he is the #5 seed).

Roger is 30-10 on the season in 11 tournaments with one title. Before the Rogers Cup in Toronto last year (which he didn't play), he was 51-7 in 12 tournaments with five titles (a Slam and two Masters and two 500s). 2012 was certainly a very special year and right from the start Roger had his sights set on claiming Wimbledon and the world #1 ranking. The fantastic end to the season in 2011 gave him confidence and momentum heading into the next season, and that entire stretch from Basel to Cincinnati the following August was one of the greatest runs he's ever had in his career.

Roger said before this season began that the year would be one of transition, and up to this time it has certainly been that. Apart from a few patches of brilliance every now and then, it has been a pretty disappointing campaign thus far. Whether it is just natural decline, low confidence, or the back injuries, or all of the above, he has not had the results he would have enjoyed and has lost to nine different players, six of whom he really should not have lost to (Benneteau, Berdych, Nishikori, Stakhovsky, Delbonis, and Brands).

So far the year has been the exact opposite of the first seven months in 2012. Not only was he healthy (for the most part) and playing spectacular tennis week in and week out, but he had the confidence to win close matches that he could have and perhaps should have lost. This year, the confidence and self-belief is low and he is losing those see-saw matches that he won so often last year.

The fire in his eyes seems to be out this year with the exception of the Australian Open, although as I said, we don't know how much of the last 7 months he's been dealing with his back problems. We know he was struggling with it in Indian Wells and now in Hamburg and Gstaad, but, and I only speculate, he could have been having back issues at every tournament this year and all he can do is manage it as best he can.

The rest of the year, barring any injury, Roger will play Cincinnati, the US Open, Shanghai, Basel, and the World Tour Finals if he qualifies. Right now, it looks like it will be hard for him to win 50 matches this year. I don't really have any expectations for these next tournaments he plays; I just want him to stay healthy, because with health will come better play, I am almost sure. It hasn't been a fun season as a fan, and for me personally it's hard seeing him look unhappy on court and in pain. Having many injuries the last few years playing tennis, I understand.

Looking forward to Cincinnati to see what the future holds for Roger, but for now I'm excited for Montreal, my country's biggest tournament. It won't be as enjoyable without Roger there but it should be interesting nevertheless with Djokovic, Murray, Nadal, Ferrer, del Potro, and Berdych all there (Tsonga withdrew as well).


PS: 200th article on this blog!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Federer Falls to Brands in Gstaad


That is the word you use right now if you are a fan of Roger Federer. Last Saturday, the great Swiss lost a double tiebreaker to Argentine Frederico Delbonis, and now, in his home country of Switzerland, in the city of Gstaad, Federer suffered another surprising defeat to Daniel Brands of Germany.

Things started off decently enough with Federer holding cleanly but he gave up the break in the 5th game. Brands took care of his service games and saved a few break points along the way (one of which he dumped a second serve return into the net), but he won the first set just as he did in Hamburg last week. As if losing the first set was bad enough, the Fed got broken in the first game of the second and faced an ever-growing mountain. He had his chances to break back at various times in the set but every time he did Brands had the answer, either with a big serve or a big forehand winner. End result, a 6-3, 6-4 defeat, and he has lost 3 of his last 7 matches.

It is a hard time right now if you are a fan of Roger, as of course I am. Trying to find answers to these losses and this general poor play is difficult, as it must be for Fed himself. What is happening that he has such little confidence? The recent racquet change has little to do with it, because he has no self-belief that he can beat the guy on the other side of the net right now - and it doesn't matter whether he's playing with a 90, 98, or 120, he will still not play well if he doesn't have a healthy, energized mind.

Perhaps the loss to Murray way back at the Australian Open hurt him more than I anticipated. Couple that with losses to Benneteau, Berdych, Nishikori, Tsonga, Stakhovsky, Delbonis, and now Brands, it is easy to see why someone like Roger would be struggling going through such a rough year so far. He is slower, has less power, and is less capable of stringing together great matches like he once was at the height of his powers (or even last year when his confidence was sky-high). All I know is that he must right this ship in Montreal and Cincinnati or else he won't even make the quarterfinals at the US Open, no matter what the draw looks like.

I know decline happens, but it is difficult to go through this last month as a fan of his. He is trying his hardest to fight it off but sometimes you just cannot delay the inevitable. However, I have no doubt that he can still play good tennis, but he needs to build it by winning some matches and that starts in Montreal, which I will be attending for a day (hopefully Fed is still in it when I go around 3rd round/quarterfinal day).


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Federer falls to Delbonis in Hamburg

Roger Federer fell short in his bid to win a 5th title in Hamburg, losing to 114th ranked Argentinian Frederico Delbonis76(7), 76(4).

Things started out great for the 4-time champion as he broke in the third game, but could not consolidate that break. The two went back and forth the rest of the set and it ended in the eventual tiebreak. Federer had a 4-2 lead at the changeover but squandered a set point and then Delbonis converted his.

In the second Roger faced a lot of pressure on his serve but dealt with it well as he usually does. He saved three break points in his opening service game and then a few more at 3-3. At 3-4, he had a break point chance but the Argentinian put away a nice forehand winner and won the game. In the tiebreaker, he struck together some good points and got the biggest win of his career when Roger dumped a tame forehand into the net.

It's a disappointing loss as they always are, but I am trying to look on the positive side of things. Fed got 4 matches under his belt with the new racquet, fought well in two matches against Brands and Mayer, and got some added matches. The title would have been sweet, but it's not doom and gloom that he didn't win it. At the end of the day, he had a set point in the first set and a break in the second to serve for the match, so perhaps if a few points had gone his way he would be in the final challenging for the trophy.

Overall, I am happy with the way he played with the new racquet. He generated more power off the ground, especially his backhand, and his defense was a bit better as he was able to get better quality shots on the run. Some of the shanks and mishits were still there, but as I said previously, those are a result of not being in position to hit the intended shot, not the size of the racquet.

It is interesting to note that he played the match vs Delbonis with his back taped, so I hope that's not a big problem (though I feel it will never go away). Not that it was an excuse for his play - this was one of those matches he would have found a way to win last year when his confidence and momentum was greater.

Well, onwards and upwards to Gstaad, in Switzerland, where Roger will look to pick up title #78 and #2 of the season.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Federer overcomes Mayer test in Hamburg

Roger Federer advanced to the semifinals in Hamburg with a 76(4), 3-6, 7-5 victory over German Florian Mayer in a competitive, high quality match in which Federer was pushed to his limits by a man playing very good tennis.

The first set was about as even as it could be as both Federer and Mayer held their serves all the way through and it was decided by a tiebreak, which the Swiss Maestro took seven points to four. In the second set Roger had chances to break in the first game but was stilted, and the tricky German started gaining confidence and played some great ball to go up 5-1. Roger broke back but was unable to hold his serve at 3-5 to stay in it.

In the third, Roger went up a break twice, but Mayer kept fighting and earned each of the breaks back. Fed raised his level at the end of the match and broke in the tenth game and served it out comfortably.

It is worth noting that in the second set Federer was wearing a sweater over his shirt. Whether it was due to the cool weather or it was just a precaution for a stiff back, we don't know. Of course it was the set Roger went down 5-1 in so some are speculating his back was hurting him, but I personally didn't see it - Mayer just played better in that set.

Overall though, this was certainly the most comfortable Federer has looked with his new racquet thus far - yes, only three matches, but still. He was getting more pop off his backhands and even more zing to the backhand slices. He seemed more assured and authoritative from the ground, which was vital to his success because he wasn't serving up to his usual standards.

Some quotes from RF:

“It was extremely difficult,” said Federer. “I started really well. I thought we were both hitting the ball well in the first set and not giving each other that many chances. It went down to the wire. I’m happy I played a good tie-break. I should have been up early with a break in the second set; he got me there. It was a bit of a rollercoaster till the very end of the match. Just had to tough it out.”

“The conditions were cold and heavy, the clay was heavy. So, it was different than we had expected at the beginning of the day when we thought we would play at 5:15pm. I have to say that I really enjoyed the match. It was a tough match and Florian fought hard.”

Next up is Frederico Delbonis, who surprisingly took out Wimbledon quarterfinalist Fernando Verdasco in three sets after saving a match point in the second set. He is a big left-hander with a big serve and a big forehand, so Roger will have to be wary of that and use his variety to move the big man around.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Federer into Hamburg Quarterfinals

Roger Federer advanced into the quarterfinals in the bet-at-home Open in Hamburg, Germany on Thursday with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Czech Jan Hajek. Up next is the German Florian Mayer, who has a funky and stylish game but may not have enough to hurt the Swiss Maestro.

Federer never really found his range until halfway through the first set. He gained a break early but gave it right back, and then wasted 4 set points at 4-5 until he finally converted on the 5th. In the second he finally got the break in the 5th game. At 2-5, Hajek saved 5 match points but the next game Roger served the match out in style, flicking an ace to win the 907th match of his career.

It was hardly a great match from Roger but he got over the finish line with little trouble and that is all you can ask for in the early rounds of any tournament. Hajek played pretty decently and handled himself well in the big points.

Of course, the big news this week is Federer's change of racquet from a 90 square inch frame to a 98 square inch frame. It is the biggest switch of Roger's career - in 2002 he changed from an 85 to a 90, which he used for 11 years before this week.

The eight extra square inches on the racquet allows Roger to hit with a little more power and gives him a little more margin for error on the many fine-tuned shots he likes to play. Some say that the racquet will eliminate shanks from his game, and that won't be the case at all. Shanks and mishits are a byproduct of bad timing which is caused by not being in the exact position to hit the intended shot. Think of it this way - he rarely ever mishit the ball in his prime years when he had elite movement and could get in position to every ball - usually hitting very aggressively and with high risk. Nowadays he is a step slower and doesn't get in position as easily as he used to.

Without a doubt, this week in Hamburg and next week in Gstaad will be tournaments where he tests out the new frame to get all the kinks out. He is still figuring out how to balance the added power with the same control. In the long term, when he gets fully used to it, I believe it will pay great dividends to use a modern racquet, especially when he plays the top guys and needs to handle their power (Berdych, Tsonga, del Potro) or needs to be able to hit through their defenses a little better (Djokovic, Nadal, Murray).

From my observation in the Hajek match, many of the mishits were caused by hitting a little early - swinging through the prime point of contact before the ball actually arrives. I assume the 98 is lighter than the 90 was because the head is bigger. If that is the case, then part of the adjustment process will be to get used to swinging a lighter frame and getting the timing right with his backswing and hitting point.

It's great to see Federer back in action and it's nice to see that he has a willingness to make such a drastic change at this point in his career like changing racquets (especially when its an 8-square inch difference). The loss to Stakhovsky could have been a blessing in disguise if this new frame helps him out against the fellow top players and helps him hide his weaknesses and strengthen his strengths.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Federer loses in Round 2 at Wimbledon

The Grand Slam quarterfinal streak had to end eventually. Today was that day as Roger Federer was stunned on Centre Court by Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky in a 67(5) 76(5) 76 76(5) loss in the 2nd round.

From the start of the match it was clear that Stakhovsky, ranked #116 in the world, had a clear gameplan - serve well and attack the net relentlessly. Throughout the match he never deviated from that attacking mindset and didn't get tight in the biggest points, the ones that ultimately won him the match in the end.

Could Federer have played better? Yes. Was he too passive? Yes. Did Stakhovsky play the big points better and with more confidence? Yes. However, it took a remarkable effort from the Ukrainian to pull off the upset - if he didn't play as great as he did, he would not have won, plain and simple. The better player won on the day, fair and square.

It was the kind of match where each set was determined by a few crucial points - and those points went the way of Stakhovsky more times than not. Stakhovsky came to net 94 times to Roger's 54, and there were few baseline rallies, especially when Fed was receiving. There were some uncharacteristic shanks off the ground from Roger, but it was the kind of match where he couldn't get into a rhythm from the baseline because so many points were decided by serves or volleys - and when your opponent advances to the forecourt 94 times, you aren't seeing many baseline exchanges and are being forced to hit pass after pass.

Tactically, Roger should have hit over more backhand returns. He chipped far too many back which set up easy volley winners from Stakhovsky - or when he stayed back, he could hit a nice approach shot. More times than not, when Roger did hit over his returns, good things happened as that forced an upward shot and a better chance at a pass.

Overall, I'm disappointed because the draw was shaping up nicely for him to get to the semifinals where he would likely play Murray, but it just goes to show that you can't take any opponent for granted. Any player is capable of winning on any given day. This sudden defeat also makes you realize how truly special making 36 straight quarterfinals in majors really is, when you can have one bad day or run into a hot opponent and it can be over in the snap of your fingers.

It isn't like he wasn't close in the last nine years to going out before the quarterfinals. To name off the close matches he could have lost in that time:

vs Tommy Haas, Australian Open 2006 4th round
vs Janko Tipsarevic, Australian Open 2008 3rd round
vs Igor Andreev, US Open 2008 4th round
vs Tomas Berdych, Australian Open 2009 4th round
vs Jose Acasuso and Tommy Haas, French Open 2009, 2nd and 4th rounds
vs Igor Andreev, Australian Open 2010 1st round
vs Alejandro Falla, Wimbledon 2010 1st round
vs Gilles Simon, Australian Open 2011 2nd round
vs Julien Benneteau and Xavier Malisse, Wimbledon 2012 3rd and 4th rounds
vs Gilles Simon, French Open 2013 4th round

That is a lot of times the QF streak could have come to an end. But he came through all of those matches and created one of the greatest streaks in sports history, one that will be incredibly difficult to break any time in the future.

Federer will fall to #5 in the rankings after the tournament ends unless Tomas Berdych wins the tournament, in which case he would fall to #6. Moving forward, being #4 or #5 probably doesn't make that big a difference because he is vulnerable against the likes of Berdych, Tsonga, and del Potro just as he is Nadal, Murray and Djokovic.

The chance for an 8th Wimbledon is gone for this year, and it is disappointing to see him lose so early in the tournament, but I have no doubt he will come back strong. Roger shrugs off defeats better than anyone and this kind of loss could be the kind of wake-up call he needs, similar to the US Open defeat to Djokovic in 2011. The summer hardcourt season is around the corner and I'm sure after a short break, Roger's focus will be solely on getting into great form for the US Open.

As for the rest of Wimbledon, you could say that Murray and Djokovic are locks to make the final, but after what happened to Nadal and now Federer, it really is true that anything can happen. Upsets are contagious. Top guys going out early spreads belief among the locker room that they can pull off that same shock.

It will take a few days for the shock of this defeat to wear off, but I still do believe better days are ahead. Even if it's just one last magical run, fans at least owe it to him to keep the faith that more glory will come, even if it means suffering through these low moments.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Nadal wins astounding 8th French Open

The King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, did something no man in the Open Era had ever done - win the same major tournament eight times. The Matador from Mallorca did just that on a cool Sunday final afternoon with a dominating 62 63 62 win over his countryman David Ferrer, who was making his first appearance in a Grand Slam final at 31 years of age. It was Nadal's 12th Grand Slam title.

It was always going to be an uphill battle for Ferrer, who hadn't dropped a set in his six matches to get to the final. He got down a break early but then got it back. Then he gave it up again and Nadal crucially took the first set. From then on, it was all Rafa, and you never got the sense he was going to let his good buddy back into the match. The under-sized fighter fought, and fought hard, but whenever he made any in-roads Nadal was there to stop him, with the vicious forehand sizzling like meat on a barbeque.

Eight French Opens. Whatever way you slice it, and no matter who you support, that is an achievement that will go down in history as one of the great feats in this great sport. Nadal is unquestionably the greatest to ever step foot on Court Chatrier, and it will be a long time before a player can do what he has done on the surface. We may never see something like it ever again.

Personally, I don't like Nadal, but I don't dislike him either. As I have matured I have come to see him in a neutral light and appreciate the legend that he truly is. I have watched him more in 2013 than in any other year and I have seen in great detail how dominating his game is when he is rolling. He can dictate with the forehand like no other (except maybe Federer).

His backhand, while not what you would call an elite backhand like Djokovic or Murray's, is one of the best simply for the power and angle he can generate with it from far behind the baseline, creating ridiculous passing shots with the strength of his right hand. His defense is extraordinary, even if he was much faster back in his younger years. His serve has improved a ton in the last five years and is a big weapon for him (and will be in the future as he tries to shorten points off clay to protect his body).  His return of serve, while not great like Djokovic, Murray, or Ferrer's, is an example of what every club level player should do with the return - first and foremost, get it back in the court. I know, because I absolutely hate missing returns I should get back in play. It is like a cardinal sin. And Rafa understands this, and he just does not miss returns he should get within the court.

You may be thinking to yourself, "isn't he a Federer guy? What's with this sudden praise of Nadal?" Don't worry, Roger is still the undisputed greatest ever in my mind and I could write 10,000 words as to why. But I see things differently than I used to back when Rafa was the guy you didn't like because he was Federer's arch-rival. I appreciate how great Rafa is to be so good for so long on clay (and how great he has become on hardcourt and grass), especially with how many injuries he has had the last 8 years. It has taken tremendous dedication, and unrelenting work ethic, and a true love of the game to keep coming back from what he has had to endure.

With his 8th French Open, Nadal became the first man ever to win a Slam title in 9 straight years (Federer won in 8 straight, 2003 to 2010). That is very impressive to say the least. Personally, Federer's 8-year streak is more impressive for me because Roger won 3 Slams a season in 3 different years (2004, 2006, 2007), and 2 in two other years (2005, 2009), with winning one in the 3 other years (2003, 2008, 2010). I think those 16 Slams in 8 years is more impressive than Nadal's 12 Slams in 9 years (1 each in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, and up to now 2013, with 3 in 2010 and 2 in 2008).

Just one other thing to touch on before I wrap this up - the future for Rafa Nadal.

Since returning from his 7-month absence, Rafa has come back with a vengeance: 43-2, 7 titles in 9 finals, with 3 Masters and now a Grand Slam. It has been remarkable. But his dominance this year could end now.

He has played 8 of his 9 tournaments on clay so far. I said back in February that Rafa would be as dominant as ever on the red stuff, because it is where he is most comfortable and confident. I said the real test would come after the French Open. Now, here we are. He has already withdrawn from Halle, which is a smart move since he's already played 45 matches this year (in comparison Federer has 29, Djokovic has 38, and Murray has 27) and played a taxing tournament in Paris. Then comes Wimbledon, where he might be a favourite if he's playing well, though I think any of the big 4 could take it. And then it will get real difficult for him as the rest of the year is played on medium-fast hardcourts, which, as we all know, don't suit Nadal's knees well. Will Rafa run out of gas? Can he stay healthy? I'm sure we will see a lesser schedule from him in the second half of the year, perhaps missing Cincinnati and Basel or Paris.

Regardless, it's a good time to be a Nadal fan. His comeback has been remarkable. I give my sincere congratulations on winning his 12th Grand Slam title and record-breaking 8th French Open.

Now onto the grass!

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Federer Falls to Tsonga in French Open

In his 36th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal, Roger Federer's hopes of being in another Grand Slam final were dashed by the dangerous Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 in a rather one-sided affair.

The conditions were windy, and after the first few games of getting used to the breeze, Federer struck the first blow as he broke in the fifth game with a smooth inside-out forehand. Both men held once and then came the big turning point in the match, the seventh game with Federer serving at 4-3. The Swiss went up 40-15 when Tsonga hit a ridiculous forehand angle winner to get to 40-30. On that point, Roger hit a simple error and it was deuce. Then he swung a forehand drive volley wide and then a routine forehand into the net gave the crowd favourite the break back.

From then, on it was all Tsonga, who is the first Frenchman to appear in a Roland Garros semifinal since Gael Monfils in 2008 (who played Federer). He won the first set and overall won 7 of the next games to take a 7-5, 3-0 lead. Federer held his own service games for the remainder of the set but couldn't get a sniff on Tsonga's service games, and quickly, almost too quickly, it was two sets to none for the Tsuper Tsonga.

In the third it didn't get much better as Roger lost serve in the opening game but he managed to break back. Then at 3-3 he played some loose tennis and gave up the break, which was the final nail in the coffin. A bad match from the 17-time major winner, and it's now onto the grass as he prepares for Wimbledon, where he is the defending champion.

 Now, I will give you my in-depth thoughts about everything to do with this match and what the future holds now for Mr. Federer.

First off, many people are overreacting to this loss, saying that Federer will never win another Slam, that he isn't a top 5 player anymore, that he should just retire now, you get the idea. At the end of the day, Tsonga played a good match and Federer played a bad one, and that is what led to a straight sets defeat. I have heard people say he lost so badly because he has declined steeply, which, let's face it, is what we have been hearing for the last 5 years.

Tennis players have bad days. They do when they are 31 going on 32, they do when they are 28, they do when they are 24. This loss doesn't mean he's finished, or that he will never have another shot at glory during Grand Slam play. The motivation isn't lacking like some fans and pundits say, he just had a bad day. His forehand was wild. His return of serve was struggling. He missed simple overheads that he never misses.

Certainly the wind did not help much. When you aren't timing the ball well and in a good rhythm, the very last thing you want is wind which will screw up your timing of the ball even more. It probably didn't help his serve either as unlike Tsonga, he couldn't really hit through the court. He didn't hit once ace in the match.

Federer is declining. It is clear, and inevitable that everyone will decline at some point as age catches up to them. Against Tsonga, we did see some glaring glimpses that he was not who he once was even two years ago. He does not possess as much power. His reaction time is not as sharp. He cannot defend as he once did, especially on clay which is the most physical surface of them all. But his anticipation, racquet skills, tennis knowledge, and tactics have not diminished, and he is still capable of playing tennis as well as he did in his prime. The problem now is that he's just more inconsistent. He has more bad days than he used to. That happens when you are over 30 and have played over 1100 matches at the professional level. Not to mention the fact that he has been at the top of the game non-stop for the last decade, competing against amazing players who have pushed him hard.

So what does the future lie in store for the great man? If there is one positive from going out in the quarterfinals it is that he will have extra time to prepare for Wimbledon, starting with the warm-up tournament in Halle. I am sure Fed is going to go all out at Wimbledon once again this year knowing it is his best chance at another Slam title.
I think he is going to push really hard in the second half of the year to do well. Last year, he had so much success in the first half of the year and played so many matches (lots of tough, mentally and physically exhausting ones as well) that he kind of ran out of gas after Cincinnati. This year he had only played 29 matches with a record of 22-7. We know of the problems with his back, but he just hasn't played as much because he hasn't gone as deep in tournaments as he did last year.

Think about it: 5 matches in Australia (one walkover), 4 in Rotterdam (one walkover), 5 in Dubai, 6 in Indian Wells, 2 in Miami, 5 in Madrid, 4 in Rome, and 6 at the French Open. This year: 6 in Australia, 3 in Rotterdam, 4 in Dubai, 4 in Indian Wells, 2 in Madrid, 5 in Rome, and 5 in the French Open. By this time last year he was 34-5 with 4 titles. He was in a good rhythm and had great confidence from winning so many matches he could have and perhaps should have lost. This year, he has had a few bad losses, namely to Benneteau in Rotterdam, Berdych in Dubai (a shattering defeat mentally), and Nishikori in Madrid. I do believe that lack of match play and lack of success did hurt him in this match against Tsonga, as right after he gave up the break in the first the wheels came flying off (unlike last year, where the wheels on the bus go round and round....).

I honestly think Roger is going to have a good second half of the year. Halle, Wimbledon, Canada, Cincinnati, the US Open, Shanghai, Basel, Paris, and the WTF are all surfaces that suit his game. I would like to see him skip Shanghai and play Paris like he did in 2011 as playing indoors is better for his game.

As for the rest of the French Open, the semifinals are set and they feature Tsonga vs Ferrer and the much-anticipated Nadal vs Djokovic rematch from last year. This is now the 4th year in a row the two of them have played in at least one Slam.

Djokovic was given a stern test by Tommy Haas in the quarters, who undoubtedly is playing some of his finest tennis at age 35, quite the remarkable feat. Stan Wawrinka had nothing against Rafael Nadal and was dispatched easily.

If I was a betting man, I would pick Djokovic over Nadal and Ferrer over Tsonga, even though the better story would be Tsonga vs Djokovic in a rematch of last year's epic quarterfinal. Tsonga won't be able to exploit Ferrer like he did Federer - the Spaniard defends and returns better, and you can guarantee he won't litter errors like Roger did either, unless he implodes under pressure. But as it stands, Jo is the one with the most pressure as he looks to become the first French man to make the final since 1983 when Yannick Noah won.

Before I finish just one quick note to all Federer fans reading this: don't be too disappointed. Even if Roger had beaten Tsonga and Ferrer and made the final it would have been a very, very tough challenge to beat Nadal or Djokovic. From here on out, his best chances at the Slams lie at Wimbledon and the US Open and even the Australian Open as even with the slower court there, it's still played on hard.

Enjoy the rest of the tournament and we'll see Federer in Halle, looking to win that title for a 6th time.