Thursday, January 19, 2017

Roger Federer fights past qualifier faces Berdych next in Aussie Open 3rd round

Roger Federer has booked his place in the third round of Australian Open 2017 with a 7-5 6-3 7-6(3) win over American Noah Rubin.

Federer, playing in his 18th Australian Open main draw, was the heavy favourite going in to the match, but Rubin pushed the four-time winner all the way in an engrossing tussle.

Aggressive from the off, Federer attempted to unsettle the 20-year-old qualifier. However, Rubin stood his ground, saving numerous break points in an entertaining first set. It looked as though the pair were heading for a tiebreak when Federer got the break he needed to take the opening set 7-5.

The second set followed a now-familiar pattern, with Federer attacking the Rubin serve. This time the American succumbed early, broken in the sixth game of the match to surrender the set.

The third was a much tighter affair.

Rubin broke at the start, and looked to be taking the match to a fourth set. However, Federer turned up the pressure while trailing 3-5 and managed to force the break.

With the set headed to a tiebreak, the momentum swung in the Swiss maestro’s favour, and he secured the set, and the match.

"He's a great fighter ... he's aggressive on the ball and I think he had the upper hand on the baseline," Federer said after the match. "I think my serving kept me in the match today ... I'm happy I got through somehow.

"I wasn't feeling as good (late) as in the beginning. I definitely got a little lucky in that third set ... so it was good to fight through."

In a re-match of the 2016 quarterfinal, Federer will face 10th seed Tomas Berdych in the third round.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Roger Federer fans rally for his return and hope his talent rages against the dying of the light

Want to become even more popular than you already are? Take a six-month sabbatical: it did the job for Roger Federer. Since the great man’s long-awaited return from surgery, the usual veneration – Federation, perhaps? – has spilled over into tennis Beatlemania.

At the Hopman Cup just after Christmas, Federer filled every seat of the 6,000-capacity stadium for a practice session. No wonder he radiated enthusiasm throughout that comeback event in Perth, playing an imaginary pair of bongos for the big screen, dad-dancing at the player party, and casually brushing past world No 18 Richard Gasquet for the loss of just five games.

Yet the Hopman Cup, for all its promise, was only an exhibition. Next week, the real business starts. As Federer returns to Rod Laver Arena – the venue for four of his 17 major titles – what can we expect from the sport’s most decorated player? Can he stand up to the challenge of five-set tennis? Or will this be the first warning that his powers are truly on the wane?

No one doubts that Federer has been badly missed. The ATP World Tour Finals felt diminished by his imperious absence, which contributed to some patchy crowds in midweek. When he does finally withdraw to the shores of Lake Geneva, tennis will experience similarly painful contractions to the ones suffered by golf once Tiger Woods lost his edge.

Clearly, he is no longer the unstoppable force he was at his peak. But with his 36th birthday due in the summer, his admirers fear the end of days.

From Monday onwards, the Australian Open will be besieged by anxious well-wishers, hoping for one more glimpse of greatness. In the circumstances, the organisers must have been delighted by the draw, which inserted Federer’s name next to three qualifiers. It almost guaranteed a whole week of Fed-frenzy, because the first time he can play a top-100 opponent will be in Friday’s third round.

Should Federer reach that far, however, the degree of difficulty is likely to climb as steeply and suddenly as the slopes of Mount Buller – the Melburnians’ local ski resort. In all probability, he will go from fine-tuning his game against a couple of wannabes to playing Tomas Berdych, the 10th seed and former Wimbledon finalist. And were he to pass that test against the statuesque Berdych, who backs himself to hit through sheet metal, he would most likely move on to Kei Nishikori, the contrastingly lithe and light-footed Japanese.

These are the kind of things that happen when you are seeded 17th. It could have been even worse: Federer could have drawn his old nemesis, Rafael Nadal, in the third round. But there will still be significant pressure on his shoulders. In the old days, when he was racking up major titles like some people collect comics, the 720 points he took from last year’s Australian Open would have been small change. Now, those points represent just over a third of his total.

The penalties for a slip-up, then, are enormous. Let’s say Federer were to overcome both Berdych and Nishikori, then fall in the quarter-finals, where his most likely opponent would be Andy Murray. That would be a highly creditable effort after such a long lay-off. But he would still drop 360 points and fall back into the mid-twenties on the rankings table. For his next tournament – which will probably come in Dubai late next month – he could even be unseeded, raising the possibility that he might face Murray in the first round.

Such are the potential pitfalls when you have been out of the game for half a season. Yet Federer has an asset in the unique cachet he holds right across the game – from spectators to players to officials. In all probability, the majority of his appearances on Rod Laver Arena will come in night sessions, which will save him from the intense heat forecast for the early part of next week.

It might seem strange that, when tournament director Craig Tiley works out the scheduling, the 17th seed will count as his biggest drawcard. But then charisma is only loosely correlated with recent results. Novak Djokovic and Murray stand unchallenged as the leading contenders for the title, but not as first-choice TV properties. Local interest dictates that Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic are both easier to sell. And the old ones – in the familiar cases of Federer and Nadal – are still the good ones as far as the networks are concerned.

Both these tennis giants called time early in their 2016 seasons, having discovered that their bodies do not overcome trauma as quickly as they used to. But their situations are hard to compare, not only because Nadal missed six weeks rather than six months, but also because he is so experienced at the art of the comeback. The man has contended with more faulty joints than an emergency plumber.

“Rafa’s always been unbelievable at comebacks,” Federer told the New York Times last month. “He’s one of the guys who’s done it the best and the most almost. Every time he came back, he was always in the mix again to win big tournaments and be really, really difficult to beat, even on his weaker surfaces. So I think maybe on this occasion, he’s going to lead the way for me, to show how it’s done.”

Federer can be confident that he will not face Nadal over the next fortnight. Both men would have to reach the final, and that would be miraculous. The balance of power has shifted too far towards the younger members of the ‘Big Four’. Even so, neither of the founding fathers is ready to move aside completely.

Federer expressed his position in that same New York Times article, when he breezily told interviewer Chris Clarey that retirement “can totally wait”.

Nadal made the same point – in fewer words – when he asked his old friend Carlos Moy√° to supplement his coaching team. That ended any idea that Nadal’s appetite might be waning, and heightened the sense of unpredictability heading into the new season. Whatever 2017 brings, we should enjoy tennis’s Fab Four while we can.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Roger Federer victorious in first Grand Slam match since summer of 2016

He dropped a set, but Roger Federer had no complaints. After six months out of the game, the 17-time Grand Slam champion was happy to be back on court at a major – even as Austrian qualifier Jurgen Melzer made him earn his 7-5 3-6 6-2 6-2 victory on Monday night.

“This year hasn’t been so tough yet – last year was tough,” Federer said after 2016 was blighted by a torn meniscus in his left knee. “It was a long road, but I’ve made it. I’m in the draw and it’s a beautiful thing. Any match is a good match, even if I’d lost today, because I’m back on the court.”

In many ways, it was the ideal test for Federer, seeded No.17 on his Grand Slam return. Melzer is a wily and well-drilled left-hander who allowed him to test his attacking and defensive game over four sets – hardly your typical first-round showdown between seed and qualifier.

Then again, Melzer is no typical qualifier. The former world No.8 played in a Grand Slam semifinal as recently as 2010, stunning Novak Djokovic in five sets in the French Open quarters before losing to Rafael Nadal. He had even won his last match against Federer, at Monte-Carlo in 2011.

“I was expecting to play a young guy in the first round because there were a lot of young guys qualifying,” Federer said. “To play Jurgen was cool. We know each other since we were 16. We used to play doubles together at the Orange Bowl back at Flamingo Park in Miami. We go way back.”

It’s been a long road back for fellow 35-year-old Melzer – three months Federer’s senior – after surgery to his left shoulder in late 2015. The Austrian played just four Tour events last year, and was the world No.550 as recently as September. On Monday night against Federer he made a mockery of such numbers, leading the first set and storming back in the second to push the 17-time Grand Slam champion through four sets.

Federer’s Grand Slam return got off to an inauspicious start, with four framed shots in the opening game as dusk set in over Rod Laver Arena. As his errors piled up, Melzer built on a good start, securing a 4-2 lead with an arrowed backhand pass.

With that, Federer moved up a gear, rattling through seven of the next eight games and sealing the first set with an ace. And then, just as suddenly, the gears began grinding once more. Leading 3-1 in the second, his first serve deserted him – his conversion rate dropped to 56 per cent – and Melzer capitalised, running away with the second set.

Later, Federer conceded he was perhaps guilty of over-thinking his first five-set match in six months. “I realised it was just consuming me,” he said. “It goes in waves – say, Okay, I'm going to focus right here, then later I'm going to try to play a bit more relaxed. Just calm down a bit, try to play more freely. I think that then worked much better.

“I almost felt like I had to pace myself. I didn't want to overthink every play. That was not the idea, to come here and go mental about every point. It's already great to just be here, trying to play with the guys.”

Federer regrouped at the start of the third, and with a clear mind on a clear night, those trademark moments of magic broke through. Sharpening up on return, time and again he went behind the Austrian to the delight of the crowd and the benefit of the scoreboard, mixed up his net game and opened his shoulders to end the match with 46 winners.

If the third set was good, the fourth was better, Federer bringing up match point with a lob over Melzer that the Austrian tweenered into the tramlines before a looping forehand landed wide to end the contest after two hours and five minutes.

Up next for Federer is American 20-year-old Noah Rubin, who beat fellow American qualifier Bjorn Fratangelo in five sets.

“I know he's a baseliner,” said the Swiss, who admitted he knew little about the former Wimbledon junior champion. “He makes a lot of shots. I guess it's not a bad thing for me. I know it's probably more on my racquet rather than playing a big server.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Roger Federer gets Murray in the quarters, and an overall tough draw at Aussie Open

Andy Murray could have a tricky path to becoming the last man standing in Melbourne, while Novak Djokovic has an equally treacherous road in pursuit of a seventh Australian Open crown.

Top seed Murray opens up his quest for his first Australian Open title against Illya Marchenko, with the Brit winning their lone meeting at the 2011 edition of this tournament. Looking ahead, Murray could face No. 16 seed Lucas Pouille in the fourth round and either No. 5 seed Kei Nishikori or No. 17 seed Roger Federer in the quarter-finals.

Second seed Djokovic was given a very tricky first-round against veteran Fernando Verdasco. The Serbian leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 9-4, including a third-round victory in the 2015 edition of this tournament. However, he was forced to save five match points in prevailing over Verdasco earlier this month in the semi-finals in Doha. The Spaniard is also more than capable of upsetting big names in early rounds, as evidenced by his first-round win last year in Melbourne over Rafael Nadal.

Should Djokovic advance, he could play No. 15 seed and recent Brisbane champion Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round, followed by eighth seed Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals.

Federer was given a comparatively kind opener in his first sanctioned tournament since Wimbledon, with the Swiss maestro guaranteed to play a qualifier in his first two rounds. His path gets significantly harder afterwards, though, with potential matches against No. 10 seed Tomas Berdych in the third round, Nishikori in the fourth round and Murray in the quarter-finals.

Ninth seed Nadal starts out his campaign Down Under against Florian Mayer. A mouth-watering third-round clash against No. 24 seed and #NextGenATP star Alexander Zverev looms ahead, while an equally entertaining fourth-round clash against sixth seed Gael Monfils is also on the cards.

Third seed Milos Raonic will need to be on his game from the first ball when he plays the always-flashy Dustin Brown in his first match. No. 13 seed and recent Chennai champion Roberto Bautista Agut is a likely fourth-round matchup, followed by a potential quarter-final clash against Monfils.

Fourth seed Stan Wawrinka kicks off his search for a second Australian Open crown against Martin Klizan. The 2014 champion is on course to face No. 14 seed Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round and seventh seed Marin Cilic in the last eight.

Another notable first-round match includes the return of former World No. 2 Tommy Haas, who will square off against Benoit Paire. The German is competing in his first tournament since Vienna in October 2015.

Wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis withdrew from the men’s singles draw due to injury. His spot will be filled by a lucky loser from the qualifying draw.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Roger Federer eager to return to competition at Aussie Open

Roger Federer’s return to tournament play at the Australian Open has fans buzzing about potential matches against the world’s top players, but the four-time champion said he can't look that far ahead when he doesn't know who he will play first.

The No. 17 seed opens up against a qualifier and is guaranteed to play another qualifier in the second round should he advance. Having not played a competitive match since Wimbledon, Federer said he can’t afford to take any of his opponents lightly.

“It would be good to know who I play. Once it's out, it's a good thing because then you can start actually mentally preparing for the Australian Open,” said Federer. “Is it a lefty, a righty? It's a big deal. Is he a big server, a grinder? A bit of an unknown here the first round. Having not been playing, that's the part of the draw I care about most.”

Should he advance past his difficult section of the draw that includes No. 10 seed Tomas Berdych and fifth seed Kei Nishikori, Federer could square off against top seed Andy Murray in the quarter-finals. The Swiss maestro leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 14-11 and has won their past five matches. But Federer acknowledged the Brit would be a much different opponent after reaching No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings at the end of last season.

“It definitely feels different because everyone comes up to you and says you’re the best. You start walking around a bit differently. Just feel more confident overall in your shots. Usually when you win, it solves everything,” said Federer of becoming No. 1. “Then you come to a point where you have to remind yourself how hard you had to work to actually get there. It's going to require that plus more to stay there. But I feel like because Andy is not 18 years old, he knows all about that.

“I'm super happy for him. He deserves it,” added Federer. “He's been in there for a long time. He's had some tough losses, some great wins over the years. He never quite strung it together so that it would pay off, but this time it did. It's great for him and great for the sport.”

Federer is eager to get used to that winning feeling again, but has already enjoyed being back around the familiar atmosphere of tennis tournaments. Although he relished the time at home with his wife and their four children, returning to competition was always at the forefront of his mind.

“You do miss the matches. You miss the feeling of winning, walking onto a stadium, seeing the guys. It's like an extended family to some extent,” said Federer. “You walk around and you see faces you haven't seen in a while. It's just nice to see everybody again.

“I have a lot of friends on the tour because I'm the returning guest everywhere I go for 20 years,” he added. “It feels good to see those familiar faces every single year. It's something I couldn't quite enjoy the last six months. That's probably what I missed the most.”

Roger Federer named 2016's most marketable sports person

Roger Federer has been named the world's most marketable sports person in 2016, according to researchers at the London School of Marketing. The Swiss superstar earned nearly £50 million ($60.7m) in sponsorships and endorsements, despite missing six months of last season and undergoing knee surgery in March 2016.

Jacques de Cock, faculty member at London School of Marketing said, "Despite Roger Federer's slow year in terms of success in his sport, his successful endorsement deals show that personal characteristics can also be an important part of long-lasting sponsorships."

Federer is listed ahead of NBA basketball player Lebron James (£44.3m/$53.8m) and golfers Phil Mickelson (£41m, $50.2m) and Tiger Woods (£36.9m, $44.8m). Tennis players Novak Djokovic (£27.9m, $33.8m) and Rafael Nadal (£26.2m,$31.8m) are also in the Top 10.

World's Top 10 Marketable Sports Stars (Source: London School of Marketing)

1) Roger Federer (tennis) - £49.2m
2) LeBron James (basketball) - £44.3m
3) Phil Mickelson (golf) - £41m
4) Tiger Woods (golf) - £36.9m
5) Kevin Durant (basketball) - £29.5m
6) Rory Mcilroy (golf) - £28.7m
7) Novak Djokovic (tennis) - £27.9m
8) Cristiano Ronaldo (football) - £26.2m
9) Jordan Spieth (golf) - £26.2m
10) Rafael Nadal (tennis) - £26.2m

Friday, January 13, 2017

Roger Federer seeded 17th at Aussie Open

The Australian Open men's draw will be one of the most anticipated ones in recent history. The draw will be held on Friday for the season-opening major, which starts on Monday in Melbourne. This year, there is an increased attention over the draw because of the return of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to a major.

Federer slipped to No 17 in the rankings this week after Grigor Dimitrov won the Brisbane International and moved up to 15th spot. Nadal, the 2009 Australian Open champion, is the seeded ninth.

The Australian Open tends to stick with the rankings when its seeds 32 players in each of the men's and women's 128-player singles draws, meaning the 35-year-old Federer gets less protection than usual and could potentially face a top 10 player in the third round.

The seedings were confirmed by Australian Open organizers on Thursday.

Federer has won the Australian Open four times, his first in 2004, and also reached the final in 2009, but he hasn't won the title at the Melbourne Park since 2010.

He spent six months out of action last year while recovering after surgery on his left knee and finished 2016 at No 16, finishing a year in which his record run of 65 Grand Slam appearances ended when he couldn't contest the French Open, subsequently also missing out on the US Open.

He returned to action at the international mixed teams exhibition at the Hopman Cup in Perth last week.

As expected, No 1-ranked Andy Murray is the top seed ahead of six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic in the men's draw and Angelique Kerber, the reigning Australian and US Open champion, is the top seed in the women's draw ahead of six-time winner Serena Williams, who is seeded No 2.

Federer has been listed outside the Top 10 seeds for the first time since the 2002 US Open (No 13 seed).

The Swiss player's low seeding ensures that he will have a tough draw and will have to play top-ranked players in earlier rounds. Here's a look at his potential opponents based on the men's seedings.

As he is seeded jut outside the top 16, the 17-time Grand Slam champion will face another seeded player as early as the third round. Federer could potentially draw one of the players seeded between 9 and 16 in the third round, or round of 32. This includes: Nadal, Tomas Berdych, David Goffin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Roberto Bautista Agut, Nick Kyrgios, Lucas Pouille and Grigor Dimitrov.

If Federer draws one of Bautista Agut, Pouille or Dimitrov in the third round, then he will ended up playing a top four seed in the fourth round, given that the draw holds up. This means that he could possibly play Murray, Djokovic, Raonic or Wawrinka at such an early stage in the tournament.

With Nadal seeded nine, his possible third round opponents will be potentially one of the players seeded between 17 and 24. This means the Spaniard could face one of Federer, Richard Gasquet, John Isner, Ivo Karlovic, David Ferrer, Pablo Cuevas, Jack Sock and Alexander Zverev.

The return of Federer and Nadal to the tour has been one of the things that tennis fans have been looking forward to the most in 2017. But their tumble down the rankings due to their absence has led to the possibility of extremely high quality matches between top players in the very first week of the major. All eyes will be on the draw on Friday, as both players (and their fans) will be hoping to avoid dangerous opponents.

While not surprising it is still so strange seeing Roger seeded in the double digits, and outside of the top 5.