australian open federer

Roger Federer Faces Doubts In Toronto

Roger Federer held his first tournament press conference at the Rogers Cup on Monday and was bombarded by questions about his current slip to the No. 3 position in the ATP rankings. Such is the reality the Swiss star faces wherever he goes these days as his game has dropped a notch in recent months.

After making a record 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals, Federer’s streak was snapped at Roland Garros in May where he lost to surging Swede Robin Soderling. Then at Wimbledon, a tournament he has owned the past seven years, he lost to Tomas Berdych in four sets. Having just turned 29 years old on Sunday, fans and media alike are both starting to question Federer’s tenure at the top of the men’s game.

In fact, this is not the first time that Roger has been faced with a barrage of doubts about his grip on the upper echelon of the ATP tour. In 2008, after falling to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, Federer would go on to lose the finals of both the French Open and Wimbledon to Rafa Nadal. This time two years ago in Toronto he was bounced in his opening match to Gilles Simon and then the vultures were really out to get him.

Federer rebounded of course by winning three of the next four Slams. He triumphed at the U.S. Open that September and then won his first French Open title last year, followed by another Wimbledon title. Could Federer have some late season magic up his sleeve for Flushing Meadows again this year?

One sign that Federer is serious about re-establishing his dominance is the new partnership he is testing out with Paul Annacone, former coach of Pete Sampras. The relationship began shortly after Wimbledon with a visit from the American tennis coach to Roger’s home in Switzerland and the Rogers Cup offers the first tournament action to test out their short-term progress.

“I’ve always gotten along very well with Paul,” Federer said. “Him being obviously the coach of Sampras and Henman who were sort of friends to me and I know very well. So I thought it was a good time to do a test, and this is our first test tournament we’re doing. We’re taking it slow, and we’ll see what happens next week.”

As for all the media attempts to speculate about his demise, Federer quipped that the press sometimes rushes their judgments and forgets some of the obstacles he has faced over the past year and a half. He also stated that Nadal had to endure the same type of negativity a year ago as he battled his injury issues.

“…the press gets too carried away too quickly. It’s understandable with our success we’ve had, Rafa, myself, you know, the last couple of years…I had mono, the lung infection, I had back issues a couple of times.”

Excuses aside, it is coming to the time where Federer is going to have to let his results do the talking. A strong start to his summer hard-court season here in Toronto would certainly put some of the doubts aside.

Federer takes to Centre Court this evening against Juan Ignacio Chela to try to take that first step forwards.

AROUND THE CORNER: MIAMI MASTERS

Fresh off from a very intriguing tournament in India Wells, the ATP Tour now heads east to Miami for the next Masters 1000 event – the Sony Ericsson Open. Anyone willing to put money on another Roddick/Ljubicic final? Didn’t think so.

Well for starters the two are paired in the same half of the draw, so a meeting in the finals in Miami is a physical impossibility. I somehow doubt anyone would have guessed the 31 year old Ljubicic would have had such an amazing run in a big event like Indian Wells, and yet he captured his fist Masters Series event by defeating top-level talent like Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and then Andy Roddick. A nice feather in his cap as retirement draws nearer, but not something that will be repeated.

Instead look for a big name like Murray (the defending champ) or Djokovic (winner in 2007) to capture the title in Miami.

In the top half of the draw we have world number one Roger Federer who still is shaking off the rust from a month and a half layoff after winning the Australian Open. Federer lost a match against Marcos Baghdatis in the third round at Indian Wells that he led 4-1 in the third set and had several match points as well. That can only be chalked-up to inactivity. Federer might need a bit more time to get back to his usual self out there, so don’t expect a big run in Miami – but don’t count him out either! Federer has a first round bye and then a pretty easy go until a potential fourth round meeting with Tomas Berdych.

Fernando Verdasco and Marin Cilic are two players who could cause Federer some trouble in his quarter of the draw and both will be looking to post a good result for the first time since the Aussie Open. Verdasco is 3-3 since winning in San Jose in February while Cilic has cooled considerably since starting the year with two titles and his first Slam semi-final.

Andy Murray heads up the other quarter in the top section of the draw and it is definitely time that he stepped up his game. After losing his second Slam final to Federer in Australia, Murray tanked in Dubai and was then beaten in straight sets last week against Robin Soderling. I’m not sure why Murray has played such a light schedule in 2010, perhaps he really does spend too much time playing video games. Either way, he is due for a title and what better place to grab one than in the exact spot he did a year ago. Murray’s draw should allow him to advance to the quarters before being tested, perhaps again, by Soderling.

In the bottom half of the draw look for quarter final matches between Tsonga/Nadal and Djokovic/Roddick. Tournament organizers will certainly be hoping for those outcomes. Tsonga has been quiet since the Aussie Open but has a nice section of the draw where his toughest competition will come from Philipp Kohlschreiber and John Isner. Nadal looked fit at Indian Wells and should be able to at least make it through to the quarters here in Miami. A returning David Nalbandian is in his section but the Argentine has a long way to go in his return from injury before being considered a threat. Let’s hope Rafa can stay healthy because the tour is much more interesting when he is in the mix.

Djokovic should advance in his section as should Roddick – although I wonder if the American is due for a slip-up after starting the year so strongly. A guy like Igor Andreev could trouble him in the early-goings.

Enjoy this last hard-court tournament before the clay-court season gets started next week at three European locations. The lead-up to the French Open is just around the corner.

FEDERER’S AUSSIE TEARS – PART I

Roger Federer is known for showing his emotions – almost as much as he is for winning major tennis titles. At the 2009 Australian Open, Federer could not hide his disappointment in losing an epic five-set final to Rafael Nadal. Federer began weeping uncontrollably in the post-match ceremony when asked to make his obligatory runner-up speech. The emotional breakdown overshadowed other occasions when Federer shed tears in high visibility moments. One such moment was four years ago today, January 29, 2006, when Federer became emotional after Rod Laver presented him with the Norman Brookes Trophy after beating Marcos Baghdatis in the championship match.

Rene Stauffer, the author of the book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com), documents Federer’s 2006 Australian title – that concluded in tears – in this exclusive book excerpt.

In his six matches en route to the final, Federer lost four sets—more than previously surrendered while reaching a Grand Slam final. The man from Basel, however, was still the overwhelming favorite to win the title when he faced unseeded upstart Marcos Baghdatis—a 200-1 outsider to win the title. The 20-year-old bearded maverick from the island of Cyprus was the major story of the tournament—defeating Andy Roddick, Ivan Ljubicic and David Nalbandian in succession to become an unlikely Grand Slam finalist. Cyprus, a small island nation off the Greek and Turkish coast in the Mediterranean with no tennis history whatsoever, was suddenly stricken with tennis fever as businesses closed and children skipped school to watch his matches. Baghdatis was unseeded, ranked No. 54 in the world and had never won an ATP tournament in his career at the time. To boot, he held an 0-3 record against Federer and Federer had never lost a Grand Slam final—let alone to an unseeded player.

The Melbourne Age newspaper carried the headline “The Wizard And The Apprentice” before the final, but as the match began, the question was which was which. Baghdatis, supported throughout the fortnight by the many Greeks in Melbourne who created a soccer-stadium atmosphere with chants, cheers and flag-waving, continued to play boldly, aggressively and on the offensive—as he had the entire tournament—while Federer struggled, particu­larly off the forehand side. Federer lost the first set 7-5 and saved two break points to prevent a double-service-break 0-3 deficit in the second set. After he held serve, Federer then broke the Cypriot’s serve in the next game to square the set at 2-2. After the two players exchanged service holds, a stroke of good luck benefited Federer late in the set as an overruled call on set point gave Federer the second set 7-5. The momentum immediately turned in Federer’s favor and the challenge to his supremacy ended. Federer’s 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2 victory secured him his seventh Grand Slam title—tying him with such legends as Richard Sears and William Renshaw—heroes of the 1880s—as well as John McEnroe, John Newcombe, Mats Wilander and two of four French Musketeers, Rene Lacoste and Henri Cochet.

Federer showed no exuberance as the award ceremony began, but when Rod Laver bestowed the Norman Brookes Trophy upon him, he was overcome with emotions. “I don’t know what to say,” he said at the start of his victory speech, before he fell silent. He barely managed to congratulate Baghdatis and thank his entourage and sponsors. When he mentioned Laver and that the title meant a great deal to him, his voice cracked, just like at his first Wimbledon victory, and he could no longer hold back his tears.

“I was terribly nervous,” Federer told Swiss television commentator Heinz Günthardt after he left the court. “It was an immense burden to be so clearly favored against a newcomer.” With seven Grand Slam titles, Federer began to compete not only against his contemporaries on the other side of the net, but against the ghosts of tennis history, including Pete Sampras and Rod Laver, who was standing next to him on this day.