If it’s not official by now then it is after this match: Federer means business in 2014. I caught up with this match when Stepanek was serving for the second set at 5-4 after having dropped the first set 6-2. I seem to have a knack for joining matches at the right time because that is really when the action began. Roger broke right back to level at 5-5 and at 6-6 I felt he was the obvious favorite to win the breaker. But Stepanek was playing some inspired tennis. He meant business himself. Stepanek is a talented player who can hang with the very best on a good day. And this was no doubt a good day. Stepanek won the breaker 7-4 to set up a decider. It was gonna be interesting to see Roger’s response. Breaking back in the second set was not enough. He had to dig even deeper. But Stepanek was about to make his task even harder.
He broke Roger in the second game after a sensational dive volley lob to set up break point. Just inspired tennis. But Roger was about to play some inspired tennis of his own when he broke Stepanek with a scintillating backhand return pass down the line. 2-1 Stepanek. Roger then struggled quite a bit to hold serve, upon which he broke Stepanek to love. He also got the insurance break to take a 5-2 lead, but there was one twist left in the tail of this entertaining match. Stepanek broke back and served to stay in the match at 5-3, but this time Roger closed the door on him. I thought it was a terrific display of mental strength and clutch tennis from Roger. After breaking back to stay in the second set, losing the tie break must have been a disappointment. But then he even got broken by Stepanek in the third set.
Then after all this he won five games consecutively to effectively put the match beyond Stepanek. I thought that showed great character and refusal to lie down. Like I said Stepanek was really on his game tonight, and to just go ahead and win five straight games after being a break down was something special. This was a high quality and entertaining match and I’m sure the crowd feels like they got their money’s worth. There was some particularly good net play. Stepanek is one of the best volleyers in the game and Roger is no slouch in the fore court either. In fact he outplayed Stepanek at the net wining 17/25 in that area while Stepanek won 14/27. So Roger continues his great net play on the volley-friendly Dubai courts. Roger also continued to surprise us with his break point conversion ratio which was 8/12.
Smilerer is back!
This is usually a sign that Roger is on the right path. We will see how it goes next against Rosol, who upset Tursunov in straight sets today. Rosol is another talented Czech who of course upset Nadal at Wimbledon in 2012. We know from that match that on a good day he can beat anyone. But if Roger continues in the vein of today he will be tough to beat. It’s about winning the important points and being clutch, which Roger seems to be doing well. It reminds of the beginning of 2012 where Roger 3.0 came to power with matches like the one against Stepanek. It really comes down to the mental side. Yes the body has to play along and certainly in 2013 it didn’t do so. But there has to be a desire and a hunger to win when the chips are down. Today was yet another performance that gave me hope that 2014 is going to be a very positive year for Roger.