Roger Federer Finally Finds the Finish Line
(June 16, 2013) On August 19, 2012, Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic in the final of ATP Masters Series 1000 event in Cincinnati. Having captured his seventh Wimbledon title earlier in the summer marking the climax to his ascent back to the No. 1 ranking, Federer’s expectations for the US Open and the conclusion of the 2012 season were undoubtedly high.
Ten top-10 defeats, zero titles, and 304 days later, Roger Federer finally found the summit today in the Halle final against Mikhail Youzhny and won, 6-7(5) 6-3 6-4. To put into perspective the length of Federer’s title drought, Rafael Nadal’s absence following his 2012 Wimbledon second round exit lasted 222 days.
I’m sure the Swiss will be elated with his 77th career title but I wouldn’t be surprised if the overwhelming feeling consuming Roger Federer right now is relief. Federer entered the final with a 14-0 record against his fiery, emotionally unstable Russian opponent but as the match progressed, it became abundantly clear that Youzhny had obliterated this piece of unwelcoming data from his mental register.
From the opening game of the match, in which Youzhny saved four break points, the Russian’s distinctive mental instability was nowhere to be found. Throughout the opening set, Youzhny’s continuous surge of positive energy was charged by a tactically sound and aggressive game plan. Youzhny was displaying no signs of bashfulness on his first serve and found his range quickly. The Russians’s first serve percentage in the first set was 69 percent and most of these serves were well-placed facilitating the consistent use of first-strike tennis. From the ground, Youzhny was accelerating through his groundstrokes, taking the ball on early, and looking to spread Federer across the baseline.
For the majority of the first set, Youzhny was giving Federer a high dosage of his own medicine. Fortunately for Federer, he was able to execute his aggressive brand of tennis well enough to stay on equal footing with Youzhny. Youzhny found himself with minor openings in a few return games but Federer was able to close these moments of opportunity with clutch serving much like he did against Tommy Haas in the semifinals.
At 5-5 in the first set tiebreaker, Youzhny drilled a piercing cross court backhand which Federer netted to obtain his second set point which he capitalized on with a winning backhand volley.
The second set saw Federer open up with a love hold and eventually obtain his first break point with Youzhny serving at 2-3. The Russian played an absolutely supreme point moving Federer across all 36 feet of the baseline finishing the point off with a sharply angled, scissor kick smash which was followed by a primal scream of enthusiasm.
Youzhny ultimately secured the hold of serve to even the set at 3-3. Despite such a stimulating end to the previous game, Youzhny was still unable to put Federer through the service strain he forced him into during the first set as Federer held three of his first four service games to love. Youzhny’s delight after holding at 3-3 was quickly made a thing of the past as Federer rapidly broke to love to take a 5-3 lead in the second set. Federer served out the second set winning 12 of the last 14 points. The end of the second set was characterized by much quicker points from Federer as he dictated from the middle of the court preventing Youzhny from implementing the forceful tennis that won him the first set.
Unfortunately for anyone watching the match, the third set was extremely bland. The first half of the set featured short points in favor of the server. In fact, throughout the first five games of the third set, Federer and Youzhny won five combined points returning. At 3-3 in the third set, Federer raced out to a 40-0 lead on Youzhny’s serve and was able to get the break with a backhand passing shot down the line. The Russian seemed utterly demoralized following the break and proceeded to bury his head in his towel for the duration of the changeover.
But surprisingly enough, Youzhny blasted two returns to go up 30-15 in Federer’s next service game demonstrating that the expected mental wear and tear from the previous game had not been actualized. But in the very next point, Youzhny sprayed a relatively soft second serve wide that would have given him two break points. Instead, Federer held and served out the match two games later. It just goes to show what a difference one or two points here and there can make in a sport that can be defined by a single inch on a single point.
Federer finally got the title monkey off his back, but in almost a week’s time, he’ll have his sights set on capturing a much more significant title as the tennis world centers in on the hallowed Wimbledon grounds.