FROM THE ATP WORLD FINALS IN LONDON – Very little is coming easy these days for the player who once made his sport look the easiest: Roger Federer, who has won more Grand Slams singles titles than anyone else with 17, has had a very stressful year, and not a very successful one to boot.
But he continues to fight, both his opponents and himself, and after fading against Novak Djokovic in the third set of his opening match at the ATP World Tour Finals, he turned his fortunes around against Juan Martin Del Potro on Saturday, coming back from breaks down in both the second and third sets in 4-6 7-6(2) 7-5 victory to gain the semifinals once again.
The Swiss was downright angry at times during the third set, even yelling loudly at a linesperson. He served fairly well through out the matche, especially at the end of the third set, but he wasn’t making large impressions on Del Potro’s service games, even though he managed to get numerous returns into play. He must dictate with his forehand in order to best the rest of the top 10 and the Argentine was winning that war all too frequently. He had to will himself to play more offensively.
“I was probably slightly angry more than thinking it’s going to be over soon,” Federer said. “It’s one of those moments today because I kind of fought back the whole match, the first, second set. Here we go again. I thought I was really getting angry at myself, how maybe I could just play a loose game, why is this happening? I’m trying to focus so hard for it not to happen, and it did, so…”
But Del Potro is no Djokovic or Nadal and still has lapses in his concentration, which is why he has yet to win a Masters Series. He’s capable of one game fade at a critical juncture and he disappeared twice to give Federer breaks back. Then the Swiss began to move forward, stop over slicing, belted some heavy topspin backhands and forehands crosscourt and found the lines with his first serve.
“I wasn’t in many of Juan Martin’s service games, so I kind of felt like probably I will get one more chance to break back. It’s exactly what happened,” Federer said. “Once on even terms, I was able to play a little bit more freely. For the first time I was almost feeling like I was kind of in the lead.”
On break point at 5-5 in the third set, Federer leapt up and cracked a big forehand return that Del Potro couldn’t handle and grabbed the break to 6-5. The Argentine managed to grab a break point in the next game after he hit a gorgeous running forehand crosscourt, but then he dumped a backhand into the net and two points later Federer gunned an ace down the T, much to the delight of the heavily pro-Federer sold-out crowd.
Del Potro has a had pretty decent season, but the 2009 US Open champion once again failed to reach the final of another major or win a Masters Series title. He’s not going to be seen as a lock to win another Slam for much longer.
“They don’t beat me easy, and I beat [them at] some tournaments,” Del Potro said. “All the matches are close, but in the end they still beat me because they have a little difference yet. Maybe I need to be strong mentally or strong physically. But with my tennis, I think I’m okay. I have still things to improve like my volleys or my approaches to the net. But in the end they make difference mentally or physically. I will be working hard on that.”
So now Federer has to try and recover quickly and find a way to keep himself in his semifinal against Rafael Nadal. That’s right – keep himself in the match for a while until he feels confident enough that winning really is a possibility and put a few doubts in the Spaniard’s head, just like he did in the first set and half against Nadal in Cincinnati, which ended in a three-set victory for Nadal.
Like against Del Potro, he has to find a way to take over points with his forehand and at the net. He has to take risks with his return game when he can get a look at forehand and not allow Nadal to pin him way behind the baseline with heavy forehands to his one handed backhand. Clearly that is near impossible as Nadal has been so successful doing so in the past, but even though the court at the 02 is playing at best medium speed, it is indoors and Federer has beaten Nadal in their two meetings at the locale. That Nadal has been playing very well this week won’t help matter either. Will that give him enough confidence to upset a guy who has clearly been better than he has since 2008? Perhaps not fully, but a little.
“I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Federer, who is 10-21 lifetime against Nadal. “There’s two more matches and that’s it. Then the season’s over for me anyway, if I were to beat Rafa tomorrow. I just have to have the right mindset to give it one last go, maybe play with a little less pressure than I have in previous matches maybe with him. I just feel like I need to look at it more as being an underdog a little bit because of circumstances, because of my year, because of his year. Maybe that free swinging is what I kind of need to do a little bit more tomorrow. We know each other that well. He’s going to do exactly what he needs to do, I’m going to try to do what I need to do. Hopefully it’s going to match up good for me. If not, he deserves it. He’s had a wonderful season.”