maestro

Learning from Roger Federer’s Demeanour

By Ritesh Gupta

The ball went up in the air and the way it swirled in the cold windy conditions, it looked as if the server completely lost the connection with the ball for that split second. He decided not to connect and chose to have a re-go at it. Nothing unusual till this point, especially considering the playing conditions. But what stood out was the way all of this was taken in his stride by the server, without even a semblance of uneasiness. In fact, what he did before returning to his service stance, exemplified what the man, who happened to be Roger Federer, is all about.

As Federer took steps towards the service line, with his collar going up and down, and hair continuously being blown away, he chose to stretch his arms!

Now be it for being calm about intricacies of playing in such environment or focusing on the job at hand, Federer just goes about tennis as if nothing can come in between him and his sport.

All this happened during the early stages of the third set of his eventual 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 win over Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals of the US Open.

Going by the style of play of the two players, especially the high service toss and the huge forehand swing of Soderling, one would be tempted to say that the Swede definitely was expected to have a tough time vis-a-vis his opponent. Even if one considers this, the way Federer served against Soderling was simply immaculate. Soderling served bigger, but Federer was much better in the same department. The Swiss maestro served 18 aces to Soderling’s two.

The service statistics for the match show how Federer adapted to the conditions. But for him, it was just another day.

In the post match, on-court interview, Federer said if he can’t serve in the windy conditions, after doing all this in his life, then there is definitely problem out there! He said be it for 2 o’clock or 4 o’clock in the morning, he can be taken out of the bed and he would still be able to serve. When a man of Federer’s stature says all this, it definitely isn’t arrogance. Its just sheer passion for the sport.

Other than his positive attitude, Federer looked in prime touch.

Soderling struggled and looked very unsettled at times. He missed four breakpoints in the first set. On the other hand, Federer converted on his first opportunity and that is all he needed.

Soderling broke Federer with a great defensive return followed by a passing shot early on in the second set. But the Swede was again broken in the following game. In fact, the slide was started by an error from Soderling to finish the game at 40-0 at 2-1. A high ball, which swirled, resulted in the Swede attempting a stroke in an awkward position. After that, his forehand deserted him twice. On the other side, Federer just went about his task the way he usually does.

Soderling exerted pressure in the third set but Federer soaked in all of it, in fact at times showing great defensive skills. The Swede did break in the eight game to go up 5-3. But Federer again broke back immediately, as Soderling netted two forehands at 30-30. Continuing in the same vein, the Swiss wrapped up the set and the match in the 12th game.

Federer is now 16-0 in night matches played on Arthur Ashe Stadium. This victory signals Federer’s readiness for the battle against Novak Djokovic for a place in the final. The triumph also resulted in a settling of scores as Soderling had beaten Federer in their last meeting at the French Open.

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal: The Greatest Rematch Of All Time?

With the second week of Wimbledon producing a transfer of most of the expected field, the top four specifically, rumblings and chatter have all heightened to the point of jubilation as another bout between Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer looks likely. But, is the rest of the field ready to allow that prized match up? The next two matches for the world’s top two looks anything but easy.

Federer has to go through a red hot Tomas Berdych, who took out the mighty one in a close battle in Miami earlier in the year. Berdych also took Roger to the brink in the 2009 Australian Open taking a two-sets-to-love lead, before Roger suited up in his Federer cape and rescued the show. If he gets through that hurdle, there may be a much renewed Novak “Djoker” Djokovic awaiting him in the semis, who has put together a grass game that looks sharper and sharper, hitting his marks, and stifling his mental demons. Novak has struggled to get an edge in majors against the maestro but in the three set format has proven his mettle. Let’s not forget that when the DJoker gets his cylinders pumping he can beat anyone on any given day, as the 2008 Australian Open has illuminated.

On the other side of the draw stands Rafa, who much like his nemesis has struggled in the early rounds but seems to have gathered some momentum, somehow evading the clutches of early round defeat and packed some wins behind him. He will next face Robin “Smoldering” Soderling in the semis, a rematch of the French Open final in May, and devoid of the comfort of clay, and its forgiving bounce, Rafa may find himself swimming in Mallorca a lot sooner than he wants. There is nothing Roger fans would love to see more on Super Sunday than Rafa wearing a bathing suit. If Rafa gets through that battle, the war may still be looming as Andy Murray could be mounting his front in the semis, armed with a nation and a return to a game style that wields craftiness and cunning mixed with well timed aggression. Murray was able to blast Nadal off the court in the 2010 Australian Open, something he couldn’t duplicate against Federer in the final, which I believe gives him all the more reason to take more risks and may even give him that extra angst, a bit more of an edge; Murray can sometimes come across as a petulant child, moaning and moping, chalk full of lofty expectations, showing improvement daily, and he really believes he deserves to be in the same room as Rafa and Roger. This may be the stage to prove that undeniably. I can’t think of a better stage than Wimbledon.

At this stage of a Grand Slam, at the business end of the tournament, the great ones are separated from the legends. Roddick, picked by many pundits to win it all, couldn’t make the cut, as he went out to underdog Lu, which I think is very telling. If you look at the track record for Federer and Nadal, what speaks to their legacy is the consistency, the will, the heart, the ability to win matches when their opponents are playing stratosphere tennis and they themselves are somewhere in the basement on that day. And on multiple occasions we’ve seen their basement ascension progress as the tournament trudges on. The second week is their moment to shine. Roger’s last two matches have brought replenished faith from loyal fans, walking off center court with straight set victories. In the Melzer match, we saw some vintage Federer with the movement and shot making at a normal level for him, an unreal level for most. This Sunday could be tennis’s version of the ‘Thrilla in Manilla.’ Or maybe the “Greatest Rematch of All Time”?

MURRAY IN CRISIS MODE: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

Confidence in Crisis – It was just nearly four months ago that Scot Andy Murray appeared ready to continue his ascent up the rankings and perhaps claim his first of what could be multiple major titles. He was confident then, even claiming before the Australian Open final that his best could beat Roger Federer. But then the Swiss maestro schooled him on that final Sunday, defeating him in straights sets just as he did the first time they met in a Grand Slam final, at the 2008 US Open.  But this second one hurt more. The third set was on his racquet, and there’s no denying that Murray hasn’t been the same since that crushing defeat. Evidence of that was blatantly on display during his most recent devastating defeat at the hands of Philip Kohlschreiber in Monte Carlo. I thought at the start of the season that this could potentially be a make-or-break year for the young gun, but I’m more convinced than ever that this is the time that Murray has to either put up or shut up. He’s in serious crisis mode, and his coaches have their work cut out for them. To allow him to completely fizzle would truly be a great tragedy for British tennis.

One Brave Man – Leon Smith has bravely accepted the post as captain of the British Davis Cup Squad. The LTA appears to be going in a different direction with the selection of Smith, which hopefully will prove fruitful over time. Many speculated Smith was appointed due to his status as one of Murray’s former coaches, and that his appointment would secure the participation of Britain’s No. 1 (though Murray has already stated Smith’s being named captain will have no bearing on his own participation in Davis Cup). Still, putting someone of Smith’s background in such a position may be the spark this nation needs. It’s a nation that isn’t short on money for developing players, and it has a population pool similar to tennis powerhouses France and Spain to draw from. The talent is there, and maybe Smith, who will have the chance to mold some of these players in a different forum, is finally going to be able to watch that talent bloom into some quality players.

Seize the Clay – That’s exactly what American Serena Williams will be looking to do, as she has announced she’s planning to make her return to competitive tennis in Rome at the Italian Open. Tennis fans will be anxious to see how the reigning Australian Open champion fairs on the red dirt as she prepares for the second major of the year. Hopefully Williams will prove she has bounced back nicely from her knee injury, as I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to see how a fit Williams stacks up against an in-form Justine Henin or Kim Clijsters on clay.

At the 11th Hour – As happy as I was to hear that Serena Williams was planning a return to tennis in Rome, I had to roll my eyes at the fact that Mary Joe Fernandez is holding one spot open for either Williams sister to join the U.S. Fed Cup Team, due to play Russia on April 24 & 25. I understand that there’s a drop off in talent and experience when looking at the Williams sisters versus the rest of the American women, so it’s understandable why Fernandez would desperately want them to be part of the squad. But both sisters have a history of only playing Fed Cup when it suits them, and more recently, have said they’ll play only to pull out in the end. Fernandez has up to an hour before the April 23 draw to change her roster, so I personally think she’d be better served to name a complete squad now with the understanding that the last one named may lose a spot to either Williams sister. Granted, it’s not the most ideal setup either way, but at least this way another less-experienced player doesn’t lose valuable time in mentally preparing to represent her country and practicing with the rest of the team should both Williams sisters opt to forgo filling that last spot.

Splitsville – Earlier this week, Serb Novak Djokovic announced that he was splitting ways with co-coach Todd Martin, who had been working with Djokovic since 2009. As Djokovic explained, “Todd faced a lot of difficulties to work on and off the court…He just didn’t have enough time to understand what I need…” It’s hard to say how the split will impact the Serb’s game. Evidence shows that he has struggled with results this year, but I was still sad to see the split. It’s no offense to his longtime coach Marian Vajda, who has done an excellent job with his young charge. But Martin was a top player, an aggressive player, and perhaps most importantly, a true gentleman of the game. Since Martin had come on board, it seemed that Djokovic was starting to show more poise and grace on the court, which mentally could only pay off in the long run. I’m hoping this newly-acquired skill will stay with Djokovic, even if Martin has not.

Federer’s Last US Open Loss

Roger Federer’s reign as US Open champion is over. The Swiss maestro’s quest to win a sixth straight US Open men’s singles title came to an end Monday as Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro defeated the world No. 1 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the championship match. “Delpo” and David Nalbandian account for “Argentine book-ends” as the two countrymen combined to be the only two players to beat Federer at the US Open since 2003 – Federer winning 40-straight matches between losing to Nalbandian in the round of 16 of the 2003 US Open and losing to del Potro in the 2009 US Open final. Rene Stauffer, in his book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) discusses Roger’s loss to Nalbandian in 2003, when Roger was first on the verge of becoming the No. 1 player in the world, in this exclusive book excerpt below.

The US Open, the final Grand Slam tournament of the year, presented another opportunity for him to seize the top spot. As the tournament be­gan, Federer seemed in the best position to capture the No. 1 ranking as he was the player with the least amount of points to defend from the previ­ous year among the contenders for the No. 1 ranking. He survived the first three rounds without being seriously challenged, but in the round of 16, once again, his opponent was none other than Nalbandian.

Media and tennis insiders tagged the Argentinean as the arch-nemisis of Federer. The two players played four times as professionals, with Nalbandian winning all four times. Federer, however, rejected the idea that Nalbandian was the player he feared the most.

“That bothers me because I’ve never said that and I don’t see it that way either,” he told reporters almost defiantly in New York. “I’ve never lost to him decisively and I’ve even beaten him in the juniors.”

The second week of the US Open became an ordeal as rain created a sched­uling chaos. The round of 16 matches that were scheduled for the second Tuesday of the event did not start until 3 pm on Thursday. After four hours of play and two more interruptions due to rain, Federer had—for the fifth time in five professional matches—succumbed to Nalbandian 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4, 6-3. The Argentinean was still a mystery to him.

“I find it difficult understanding why I take the lead or fall behind,” Federer said after the loss. “I knew that I had to play aggressively. But I just don’t know how much I should risk when serving against him. He gets to many balls quickly and is great at reading my game. I don’t know what to make of him.” Federer could only watch from a distance as Nalbandian reached the semifinals, where he lost a heart-breaking five-setter to Roddick after leading two-sets-to-love and holding a match point. Roddick went on to win the championship, defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero, who assumed the No. 1 ranking by virtue of his runner-up showing. The American wept after his first Grand Slam title just as Federer had two months earlier at Wimbledon. Roddick won the tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati earlier in the summer and moved to No. 2 in the world rankings.