YOU’D be right if you called it a bad-day-in-the-office for Switzerland’s former world number one Roger Federer, but the most important thing, in the Swiss maestro’s perspective, is that he found a way to win his second Group B round-robin match against familiar customer, fifth seeded David Ferrer of Spain, in two straight sets 6-4, 7-6(5) to advance into tomorrow’s semi-finals.
Even his most fanatical followers, most of whom probably had never seen their man serve so poorly, may have asked themselves this question “What’s wrong with Roger today?”
It was as if the Swiss was being forced to come out (against his wish) to play yesterday’s match, coming just 48 hours after he had looked like his elegant-hitting best when outclassing eighth seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia 6-3, 6-1 in just over an hour in his first Group round-robin stage match on Tuesday.
The question as to Federer’s state of being was called for, especially for those who are familiar with the quality which he has brought into the sport all these years.
True, Federer was up against Ferrer, a man he has beaten on all the 13 occasions they had faced off before yesterday. True, the Spaniard had taken just four sets off the Swiss in all their past encounters.
But that was enough reason for Federer to serve so miserably for much of yesterday’s match, especially the early stages of the opening set, during which he could not ‘buy’ a first serve, which is normally the foundation on which his dominating game is built.
Although he picked up a little to end that pathetic first set with an unimpressive 40 per cent first serves, you would be forgiven if you thought the man you were watching in the first 20 minutes of yesterday’s match, was only a look-alike of the Swiss master.
Serving first in the match, Federer, without the benefit of a single first serve in, was quickly down 0-40. At 30-40, Federer hit a superb running forehand cross-court which Ferrer misjudged, convinced that the ball was surely sailing long. To Ferrer’s horror, the ball landed inside the line, as Federer, still missing on first serves, won the next two points to escape being broken in the very first game.
In the next game however, Ferrer dug his own ‘grave’ by serving a double-fault to face a breakpoint, and thereafter immediately sent a forehand long as Federer took a 2-0 lead.
But instead of settling down to begin to take control of the match, Federer landed in just three of 19 first serves, and nearly paid for it. In a game which lasted more than 12 minutes, including seven deuces, and needing to save three breakpoints, Federer won the game with a stunning cross-court forehand winner to now lead 3-0.
Ferrer however was not prepared to lie down. He held serve to love and then broke Federer to reduce the deficit to 3-2. When Federer sent an easy backhand wide on the next point, it was Federer’s tenth unforced error (to none from Ferrer), as the Spaniard did not need to do much before levelling up for 3-3.
It was not until the tenth game of the opening set that Federer, now returning serves much better, broke his opponent to love to take the set 6-4. But even then, many do not remember the last time Federer, in one set, served just 2 aces, three double-faults, served 40 per cent first serves, hit 11 winners and 23 unforced errors, and was just 5 of 9 at the net.
There was no break of serve in the entire second set however, with the set entering a tie-break at 6-6. As he has proved nearly all his career, Federer is a master of many skills, and the tie-break is one of them. No player, dead or alive, is near Federer’s percentage success rate on tie-breaks.
Once he had a mini-break to lead 4-2, the Swiss went on to win the tie-break, unleashing a crushing first service winner to secure victory.
“David has been on a great run, winning the Valencia Open and the Paris Masters 1000 event back-to-back in the last two weeks, and a tour-leading seven titles and 72 matches this season,” Federer said of Ferrer after their match yesterday.
He added, “It was two sets but it was a tough match, so it’s great to play well and qualify… I think he’s respected by fellow competitors, he puts in such a great effort day in, day out, and with great sportsmanship… I enjoy playing against him, not because of my 14-0 record against him, but because he’s a great guy and a great player.”
It was a solid and professional performance from Czech Republic’s 27 year-old Tomas Berdych in Group A’s second round-robin match against a winless 27 year-old Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, as the big-hitting Czech secured his first win in the ongoing ATP World Tour Finals at London’s 02 Arena.
The Czech, who now can still advance to the semi-finals, needed one hour and 50 minutes to win 7-5, 3-6, 6-1, and practically sent the seventh seeded Frenchman packing from the all-star tournament.
Unlike the calculations yesterday to the effect that Djokovic’s two consecutive round-robin Group wins assured the Serb of an automatic qualification into the last four, the situation is actually not quite as straight forward as that.
It could still a very tricky situation if Great Britain’s Andy Murray (seeded third) beats the hopeless Tsonga, given the fact that it would be a meaningless match for the Frenchman. A victory for the Brit in that match would mean he has won two matches and lost one. If Berdych defeats the unbeaten Djokovic in Group A’s last match, it would mean that Djokovic, Murray, and Berdych would end up with two wins and one defeat apiece.
In such a situation, and it is quite possible, other factors e.g. number of games won and lost, number of sets won or lost, and an all-important head-to-head results involving the three players would be introduced to choose the two players to advance. In essence, it is only Tsonga who cannot, at this point, advance to Saturday’s semi-finals.
In Wednesday’s “must win” match for either Berdych or Tsonga, the Frenchman (the 2008 Australian Open runner-up), stormed back to win the second set 6-3 after losing the first 7-5.
To Berdych’s credit, he did not panic after losing that second set. Instead, he continued to hit out while also continuing to serve huge first serves, many of which kept the Frenchman on the back foot in the rallies that followed the relatively weak returns of serve.
When the Czech broke the Frenchman’s serve in the fourth game to lead 3-1 in the deciding third set, he (Berdych) had won 14 of the last 18 points.
From this stage, Tsonga did not crown himself with glory, as his game became so erratic and inconsistent that he mixed moments of sheer genius with moments of sheer mediocrity in equal measure.
Sometimes he missed first serves by a mile when going for an ace, while long and interesting rallies ended with Tsonga dumping the ball into the bottom half of the net, when he is not hitting the ball well long or well wide off the mark.
Although he served pretty well, with 62 per cent first serves (same as his opponent), nine aces (one more than Berdych), he hit too many unforced errors, a misdemeanor which cost him the match in the end.
In contrast, Berdych played high percentage tennis overall, and it was no surprise that he went ahead to break his opponent again in the sixth game for a commanding 5-1 lead.
By the time he served for the match leading 5-1, and 40-15, he had won 19 of the last 23 points. He did not need a second match point, as he hit yet another big serve down the T, and then killed off his opponent with a big inside – out forehand winner.
Today’s last Group A matches
(1) N. Djokovic (Srb) v (5) T. Berdych (Cze)
(3) A. Murray (GBR) v (7) J.W. Tsonga (Fra)
The byline of Ayo Ositelu, a consultant to the Editorial Board of The Guardian newspapers, was missing in his tennis report on Thursday November 8, 2012 edition (page 76) headlined Djokovic beats Murray in a ‘cliff hanger.’
The error is regretted.
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