(I am aware of the commenting problems some people are experiencing. I have a new theme and there are bound to be some teething problems. Please remain calm and patient. I am doing what I can to fix it.)
As they say, all is well that ends well! After struggling all week, Roger put in a very solid performance in the final over a worthy opponent and won his 85th singles title 6-3, 7-6(11). It was also his first clay-court title since Madrid in 2012, and his third title in 2015 after winning Brisbane and Dubai. Not bad at all! No Masters or slam(yet) but they all count and to already have won three title at this point in the season is actually quite superb. That’s even better going than last season when Roger won his third title only in Cincy.
The sweet thing is that he canceled out that bad loss in Monte Carlo with this title and his clay court season, which there was much hope for at the start, is back on track. He goes to Madrid with a clean slate where the altitude favors his attacking game. And yet another very encouraging thing is that he seems to have finally found his game on clay, right in the nick of time. Everything just kind of clicked in the final after struggling so much against Gimeno-Traver and Schwartzman.
- Opening Set
Roger got off to the ideal start as he caught Cuevas off guard and broke him in the second game. From the get go, he was looking like an entirely different player from the one we saw in his last two matches. He was hitting the ball crisply and had a spring in his step. The enthusiasm was back. The serve was looking great from the beginning and he was mixing up the play very nicely with serve-and-volley plays, drop shots, and attacking returns. At 5-3 and 30-0 he looked nervous as he made a double fault and missed a routine volley.
He also mishit a forehand out of the stadium at 40-30. But he managed to hold on and claim the first set 6-3 after a backhand unforced error from Cuevas. The good thing about the first set for Roger was that he looked to take the initiative. He wasn’t passive the way he was in his last two matches, waiting for the opponent to make a move. Once the first set was in the bag Roger was always going to be the favorite. But Cuevas was not going to go down without a fight…
- Second Set
The second set was extremely close as the scoreline suggests. But not before Cuevas broke back after Roger got the initial break at 3-3 and was serving for a 5-3 lead. Until that point, it looked like it would be a routine straight-set victory for Roger. Like I said yesterday though, Cuevas knows how to navigate the dirt. I actually like his game quite a lot. Everything is quite good. His serve, his forehand, and also his ascetically pleasing one-handed backhand. He also has a calm on-court demeanor which I like.
It has to be said though that Roger played a pretty sloppy game at 4-3. Cuevas broke back and soon Roger found himself serving to stay in the set at 4-5, instead of serving for the title. There was some quality tennis played as both players continued to hold serve and we headed into a tie-break. Personally I was happy not to see a routine match in the final and I was hoping Cuevas could take the match to three sets too. The tie-break was a beauty, aside from the fact that it didn’t have the outcome I hoped for.
At first I thought it would be a disappointment as Roger hit a mishit backhand which caused Cuevas to shank the ball out and gave Roger the 5-4 lead with two serves to come. Roger then held two match points at 6-4 with a serve to come, and that is where the fun started. Roger made two consecutive unforced errors to even the score at 6-6 at the turn. At 7-6 he had another match point on his served but floated a slice approach wide. Then at 8-7 it was Cuevas’ turn to have a set point on his serve.
He chose to serve-and-volley which wasn’t a bad play, but then missed a very nervous forehand volley into the net. That was his big chance. At 9-8 Roger had yet another match point on his serve and this time he made a slice unforced error into the net. Cuevas then got another mini-break and held another set point on his serve at 10-9. Again he served-and-volleyed and this time Roger came up with a smoking backhand return winner. That was an extraordinary shot under the circumstances and probably the shot that made the difference.
Finally with Cuevas serving at 11-12 a long baseline rally ensued which ended in an unforced error from Cuevas after a forehand drive down the line from Roger. I wasn’t particularly happy that it ended that way. I wanted a third set, but I’m grateful that at least it wasn’t a routine straight-set win and that we saw an entertaining tie-break and a good final. And of course it is nice to see Roger win another title and a clay title at that.
- All Is Well That Ends Well
So after what seemed to be quite a bleak week for Roger he has gone on to win the title and ended it very well. Most importantly he seemed to have found his clay court game after struggling a lot with it in Monte Carlo and Istanbul. He looked like a spent force on clay but fought through the adversity and now he is primed for another good run in Madrid. It looks like he might skip Rome, but it doesn’t really matter. He is now on course to make deep runs in Madrid and possibly reach his goal of making semis in Paris(still not confirmed).
After the Davis Cup final last year there were a lot of hopes, from my side anyway, that he has a lot of good clay court tennis left in him. And then after seeing him in Monte Carlo and Istanbul that hope started fading. But the important thing is that he kept grinding out wins the way Fed 4.0 is known to do. And inevitably it paid off in him finding his form on clay, which includes being aggressive and mixing things up a lot. He is obviously looking to shorten the points, but it took him some time to find his rhythm on clay.
This newfound clay court game will serve him very well in Madrid too, where the altitude favors attacking clay court tennis. And he will need to be at his best because his draw is difficult. At least now he is ready for it. If his clay court game has now stabilized I can see him making semis. Then he could even pose a threat to Nadal with Nadal’s current form. But Fedal matches have not exactly been in an abundant supply of late. So I am not even going to think about that anymore until it becomes a reality.
Looking forward to Madrid!
- Match Stats
That first serve percentage! Breakpoint conversions?
The is in your court.