Nishikori Too Good for Tired Federer in Miami

It doesn’t take much for Fedfans to get their expectations up, does it? People were already talking about a meeting with Nadal on my last post, while neither player were even in the semis yet. I can understand when they think Nadal would make the final, but not Roger. He has not passed the semis in Miami since 2006. That is a long time. And what is more is that he has lost twice to Roddick in Miami since then, someone he owned 21-3. That alone is enough to tell you that Miami is probably Roger’s worst tournament. The air is humid and the conditions are slow. Even in in 2007 when Roger was in his prime he lost to Canas in Miami, so losing to to Nishikori should be no surprise when Roger is well past his prime. Roger played well enough to begin with, winning the first set 6-3. The early signs that he was not quite at his best were there though.

Roger’s first serve percentage was 38%, which is almost shockingly low compared to his recent first serve percentage. Still he played well and I thought this would be a straight set win. But Nishikori was playing well too and began working his way into the match. This match reminded of the 2013 Roger where he starts of well, lets his opponent back in, and then loses control of the match. You can just feel how things are slipping away. There is an inevitability about it. That said, Roger did fight valiantly in the third set when he was down 15-30 on his serve at 3-4. He hit a backhand down the line winner which was probably right on the line, hit an ace, and then hit a winning forehand to hold serve. That was quite clutch and I thought he still had a chance after that, but then he dropped serve when serving to stay in the match.

But the key was really the second set. Roger was a break up twice, at 2-1 and 4-3, but on neither occasion did he consolidate. As if once was not enough doing it a second time is murder. So it wasn’t much of surprise when Roger got broken when serving to stay in the set at 5-6. Roger was the better player in the first set and probably in the second set too, but failed to go in for the kill. But even in the first set his first serve percentage was poor which showed early signs of a drop in form. In the end I think it just comes down to tiredness and the conditions in Miami. Roger was not even sure if he would play Miami, which is already a sign that he was feeling the strain. Also Miami just hasn’t been very kind to Roger, and the slightest drop in form against a player who is on his game on the day will cost him the match. It really should be no surprise that Roger lost here. So in the end for me the loss comes down to a slight drop in form from Roger due to tiredness coupled with Nishikori who played very well.

No it has nothing to do with having to play Djokovic or Nadal. He wasn’t even sure to face Nadal in the final and I’m sure he wanted another shot at Djokovic after Indian Wells. And should he have faced Nadal in the final he would have been up for that challenge as well. I am pleased overall with Roger’s performance in North-America. He actually won more matches than he did in 2012 and then there were the doubles in Indian Wells as well. Yes he did not pick up a title but I think his form was satisfactory. He said at the beginning of the season that he would only be back to top from again in April anyway. I think he is very close now but that physically he was not quite there yet in North-America. I sensed tiredness both in the Indian Wells final and against Nishikori. But having played all these matches would have already helped with that. Remember he did not play much in 2013 and it takes a while to get used to that week in and week out grind of tournament play again.

I think 2014 has gone very well so far. Better than we expected. I am actually delighted with Roger’s form and excited about the Davis Cup and clay court season. I think his form is right there and after a bit of a break he will be physically ready too. I was also very disappointed today to learn that Nishikori withdrew from his semi-final with Djokovic. I was looking forward to his match with Djokovic and he was physically just fine against Roger. When did he get injured? When getting out of bed? Anyway that means Djokovic is into the final and will play the winner of Nadal and Berdych who plays soon. A slightly vulnerable looking Nadal needed three sets to defeat Raonic while Berdych looked very good in his straight set win over Dolgopolov. I would love for Berdych to upset Nadal, even though he passes Roger in the rankings if he wins the event.

I actually think he has a chance to beat Nadal all be it a very small one, but that he won’t be able to beat Djokovic if he does so. I hope Nishikori’s withdrawal does not affect Djokovic negatively, because he must be on his game to beat Nadal if Nadal beats Berdych. I don’t want Nadal to win all the Masters and I don’t want him to find form again all of a sudden. I’d like to believe that Djokovic will have the better of him this season. And just as I am wrapping up my post I learn that Berdych has withdrawn as well. Quite incredible, but I guess from Berdych at least you’d expect that kind of thing. Probably tired of getting owned by Nadal and threw in the towel. So no tennis for me today and I will probably miss the final too as I’m going away this weekend. Oh well, at least Roger is now officially back to #4.

Gotta look on the bright side!

Highlights:

Miami Rd 4: Federer Shuts Down Gasquet 6-1, 6-2 to Set Up Nishikori Rematch

For the first time since I can remember my stream was almost 100% stable so for once I could fully enjoy what Fed 4.0 has to offer, and he didn’t disappoint. It was yet another clinical performance. Just total domination from start to finish. Gasquet actually looked good in the opening game and I thought we might see a competitive match. Could Roger keep his clinical form up or would we see a drop in his level for once? The answer is the former. He won the next 7 games breaking the Gasquet serve 3 consecutive times. In the second set Roger broke 2 more times to shut Gasquet down in 49 minutes. I must say it makes quite a difference when you don’t have to deal with the frustration of streams buffering all the time, because I quite enjoyed this one. It also helped that Gasquet is a talented shot maker himself and good to watch.

When I see him play there is a sense of sadness that he hasn’t made the most of his talent. He is just poor in the mental department, or else who knows what heights he could have scaled. He has all the shots. But since he has little heart Roger made short work of him. Despite the short match there were some good shot making and Roger probably enjoys playing against Gasquet. Gasquet falls way behind the base line and Roger has all the time in the world to execute his many weapons. I was impressed with Roger’s defense. He made some great defensive plays and at age 32 he is still moving very well. It’s about health and confidence. Then he hit some very sweet backhand down the line winners as well, which is always a thing of beauty. The match stats are as clean as it gets. The 5/6 break point conversion rate is something you don’t often see from Roger.

He will now play against Nishikori who upset Ferrer 11-9 in a third set tie break. I thought Ferrer would win so all credit to Nishikori for proving me wrong. The result meant that Roger is back in the top 4 where he belongs. As far as I’m concerned objective number one was thus achieved before Roger went on court with Gasquet. The head-to-head with Nishikori is 1-1 with Roger winning the Basel 2011 final with ease, but losing last year in Madrid. So he has some unfinished business with Nishikori which I think he will take care of here. Just as you think Roger’s level may drop for one match he puts in another clinical performance. This is something very encouraging. The more of these performances he can put in the more confident he becomes and more likely he is to continue doing so.

The serve continues to impress

Everything seems to have clicked now. Roger has been building his confidence back up since Cincinnati last year and he is beginning to peak now. The changes he has made is also paying off. Everything is falling into place. I don’t want to look past the next match but I can see him doing better than semis even. I think Roger actually slumped in the final of Indian Wells. There was still something missing, and even though the conditions are less favorable in Miami he could do better this time around, whatever that means. But like I said I don’t want to look past the Nishikori match. I am focused on that match because I want to see Roger set right what went wrong in Madrid last year. As for Djokovic and Murray they both had straight set wins today. Murray easily took care of Tsonga, while Djokovic was decent enough against Robredo.

Those two will face off in the quarters now and I can actually see Murray beat Djokovic. But it will be tight either way. As for Nadal he looked in brutal form as he served Istomin a bread stick and a bagel. He is obviously desperate to win this Masters title which he has never won before. It’s also quite surprising how he has transformed as a player since Indian Wells. He obviously has something to prove. He still has to play Fognini today and I’m sure it will be another slaughter. It’s now up to Raonic, Dolgopolov, Isner, or Berdych to stop Nadal from making the final. Dolgopolov beat Wawrinka today and personally I am not that disappointed with that result. It’s good to see a talent like Dolgo mature and it’s good for tennis. Isner and Berdych is currently on court to decide who will play against Dolgo.

I think Nadal will make the final anyway. I have never been very good with predicting Nadal’s future. For one thing he is unpredictable. Last week I was sure he would slump this year. After seeing what happened in the first two rounds he all of a sudden looks like the killing machine of 2013, so I have no idea what to think anymore. I mean I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he wins Miami. But hopefully he can be stopped. Finally, I saw Roger’s post match presser with Sky and it struck me that Roger has matured. Veronica also said it in a comment on my last post. He looks more calm and like he doesn’t take himself too seriously anymore. In interviews Roger always came across as a bit awkward and on the edge to me. He just seems more sure of himself from the interview that I saw.

The Da Vinci of tennis, with his racquet as his paint brush, and the court as his canvas

I don’t think it’s my imagination either, or Veronica wouldn’t have brought it up. It also coincides with what I have been saying about his improved mental fortitude. Probably the adversity he was facing last year with his back played a role in maturing him. Adversity has a way of making us grow and mature. Personally I have been going through a tough time of late myself and I can also feel a sense of improved maturity and compassion. It probably sounds strange or even silly for me to say so but it is true nonetheless. Is there some cosmic connection? I think all things are connected. Anyway I don’t intend to try and convince anyone or offer proof. I just thought I’d share it because this blog is after all a part of my personal journey and maybe someone else have experienced something similar.

Onward and upwards!

Highlights:

Indian Wells Rd 3: Federer Whips De Bakker 6-3, 6-3

Well another routine win for Roger which has been pretty common of late. Just pretty clinical stuff with no drama. A huge change around from last year where drama was basically the main theme. With Edberg as his new coach, a bigger racquet, and his health back, Roger have completely reinvented himself in 2014. The question is now whether Roger of 2014 is better than Roger of 2012. I think it is too early to say, and if the past is anything to go by then each new version of Roger is a little worse than the previous version. It’s after all natural to decline with age in tennis. I think the one area Roger have improved in is the mental department. But physical decline can’t be stopped and neither can the competition be halted. The one thing that seems to have improved as well is the fact that Roger is more clinical.

In 2012 Roger had quite a few tough three setters. That goes hand-in-hand with mental fortitude of course. It’s still early days like I said, but up until the final in Indian Wells Roger didn’t drop a set, and so far in Miami he hasn’t either. The amount of titles won so far compared to 2012 is irrelevant because Roger did not play Rotterdam this year, and he lost in the final of Indian Wells in a final set tie break to Djokovic. In Miami 2012 Roger lost in the third round to Roddick and now he has already done better by reaching the fourth round, and he is looking good for a semi-final spot at least. That’s why I say it is too early to tell which version is better, but it won’t be easy to reach the level of consistency of Fed 3.0 again. Of course Roger won a slam and became #1 that year again, and for that you need a lot of consistency.

The early signs are not bad though. I just think it’s great that Roger is playing as well as he is at nearly 33 years of age and giving us another encore if you will. It’s inspiring to see how he reinvents himself by making changes to his equipment, coaching staff, and schedule. The new coach and equipment have made and especially big impact I think. With Edberg there is a certain calm about Roger. They have great chemistry, like they were destined to be a team. As for the racquet you can almost say the same thing. I think the bigger racquet head has definitely improved Roger’s serve and consistency from the ground. I am just excited to see which surprises this next chapter in Roger’s career have in store for us. To get back to the match with De Bakker it was another rock solid serving performance and overall the stats were impressive.

Roger broke in the forth game of the first set in a game which included a terrific forehand passing shot from Roger. In the second set Roger broke in the opening game and at 4-2 he hit another one of those jaw-dropping shots that left the crowd gasping. It came off a full-blooded smash from De Bakker which Roger anticipated to perfection and then just blocked down the line with sublime timing and precision. It was another one of those strokes of genius that will make the scores of Federer highlight videos on Youtube. At 5-3 Roger broke again for good measure to wrap proceedings up. Another very encouraging performance in the slowish conditions and Roger now plays Gasquet who routined Roger’s quarter final opponent in Indian Wells, Anderson, 6-3, 6-4. Gasquet has been good in Miami and definitely is not to be taken lightly, but in Roger’s current form I like his chances.

The head-to-head stands at 11-2 in Roger’s favor. Elsewhere in the draw Dimitrov lost to Nishikori so we won’t have a Federer/Dimitrov quarter final. Dimitrov is the more talented player but Nishikori looks like the better match player at this point, because Dimitrov collapsed at the business end of both sets of the 7-6(1), 7-5 loss. Roger is likely to play Ferrer in the quarters if he beats Gasquet, which would be fitting as Roger will most likely pass Ferrer in the rankings this week. Elsewhere Nadal destroyed Hewitt 6-1, 6-3 and is obviously looking to improve upon Indian Wells. I’m sure he will too and make at least semis here. Then it is up to Stan if he is there to stop Nadal again. Stan needed three sets to defeat Gimeno-Traver though and it is yet to be seen if he can make semis.

Obviously he would like to improve on Indian Wells too. Then Murray looked good in a 6-4, 6-1 win over Lopez, and will now play Tsonga who fought off Baghdatis 7-5 in the third. That is potentially and interesting encounter but I would give Murray the edge. The winner will probably play against Djokovic who plays against Robredo after Djokovic had a walk over in the third round. If Murray finds some good form here he could potentially trouble Djokovic in the quarters which is what I am hoping for. Despite the slow conditions in Miami I am hoping Roger can make at least semis. A final and a semi would have been a pretty satisfying result in North-America, even though you would have loved for Roger to win a title. In the end it is just great to have Roger back healthy and I’m excited to see how this year unfolds.

Highlights:

I was gonna make a post about the video below last week but something came up. There is something just so special and poetic about seeing these two legends hitting with each other. In his playing days I was a big fan of Edberg and seeing him hit with and coach my current favorite it just really cool and I spent more time watching the video than I do watching any highlight reel. Edberg is now 48 but still looks in great shape and still hits a mean ball. That backhand is a thing of beauty and the same goes for those volleys. I love how easy they make it look and the effortless power too. I almost had tears in my eyes watching these two legends and favorites of mine hit together, and I feel like they are almost destined to win another slam for Roger. The partnership feels destined for sure. Excited about the future!