Federer’s future: That was brutal. It took barely an hour for Rafael Nadal to beat Roger Federer 6-3 6-2. On a hard court. It felt like Fed made about 30 unforced errors and Nadal made three. The actual totals weren’t that bad, but they weren’t exactly good, either.
Every once in a while, Federer would play a great point, matching Nadal shot for shot through a 15 or 20-stroke rally. But he couldn’t sustain that level. Instead, he went for a lot of low-percentage shots, netting way too many offensive groundstrokes. In the second set, he was a little more aggressive coming to net, but even then, the spectre of Nadal running down another return meant that he tried too much.
It may still be possible for Federer to beat Nadal on a hard court–after all, we’re not six months removed from last year’s tour finals, in which he did so–but increasingly, such a victory would require a brilliant day from Roger and a sub-standard performance from Rafa. And Roger’s brilliant days are less frequent than they used to be.
It seems like every discussion of Federer’s fall eventually turns to tactics. Nadal’s game makes Federer’s look inadequate or ill-advised. And as I’ve said, last night was riddled with low-percentage attempts that might not have won him the point even if they cleared the net. But is there another option? Last night, Nadal seemingly went games without making an unforced error. Fed had to serve an ace or quickly come in and make a volley winner to win the point. Nobody can do that consistently, least of all against Rafa.
What must be particularly frustrating to Roger is that this very game, the one that is failing so clearly against Nadal and Novak Djokovic, is still making almost everybody else look bad. The guy lost only one set in five consecutive victories against top-10 players in last year’s tour finals. It’s possible to defeat Nadal, but it may not be possible for Federer to do so without a radical makeover of his game.
Of course, we know he’ll keep trying, and no matter how the clay court season goes, there will be a high-profile showdown (or several!) this summer or fall. Roger may suffer some ugly losses, but he’s not going away.
Twenty-five: Djokovic made it look easy again yesterday, beating Mardy Fish 6-3 6-1. The first set was tighter than the score suggests, especially in the handful of games before an early rain delay. Fish was surprisingly competitive from the back of the court. Unfortunately, he had no chance in rallies with the Serbian, and the final set was just as lopsided as the tally indicates.
Still, Fish will climb to #11 in Monday’s rankings, with an excellent chance of ascending further in the clay season. Last year, he only won two matches on clay, so he has very few points to defend, and his seeding in the top 16 will help him improve on that.
Djokovic, of course, will face Nadal in tomorrow’s final. Interestingly, oddsmakers have that match almost dead even, very slightly favoring Nadal. That’s a shift from the Indian Wells final, in which they gave Djokovic a 55% chance of winning. The thinking must be that the conditions in Miami make that much of a difference. Or that since Djokovic lost five games to Viktor Troicki, he must be off his game.
The onion: HT.com favorite Flavio Cipolla is having a heck of a week at the challenger in Barranquilla. In the first round, he defeated the French #6 seed Eric Prodon; after that, he went to a third-set tiebreak to beat local boy Robert Farah. Yesterday, he once against needed a third set in getting past Martin Vassallo Arguello, who himself turned in a very solid week.
The Cipolla-Farah match got some confusing publicity over the last couple days, as it was incorrectly reported to have taken four hours and 23 minutes. The match was delayed 40 minutes, so the actual time is under four hours. Not record-breaking, but it’s still enough to ensure that for a few weeks, Farah will have nightmares in which a diminutive Italian scurries around the court, always getting the next ball back.
See you tomorrow!