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.