Thursday, February 28, 2019

Roger Federer battles past Fucsovic to keep No. 100 hopes alive in Dubai

Roger Federer faced two set points in an opening-set tie-break on Thursday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. But the seven-time Dubai champion stayed calm and eliminated Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 7-6(6), 6-4 in one hour and 56 minutes, continuing his pursuit of a historic 100th tour-level title.

"I'm very happy to have found a way to the semis," Federer said. "It was a good level of play considering all the difficulties that were on the court today."

Federer remains undefeated in Dubai quarter-finals, advancing to the last four at the ATP 500 tennis tournament, where he holds a 51-6 record, for the 11th time. He will face sixth seed Borna Coric for a spot in his 10th final at the event.

The 37-year-old Swiss is now just two victories away from earning his eighth Dubai crown and becoming the second player in the Open Era to win 100 tour-level trophies. The only other player to accomplish the feat is Jimmy Connors, who captured 109 titles.

Reaching the semi-finals was not easy, though. Fucsovics did well to maintain his court-positioning for much of the match, using his forehand down the line to keep the Swiss on the back foot and to try to dictate play as much as he could. Federer was never able to consistently dominate rallies, making for a tense affair with entertaining points.

After Federer stormed to a 3/0 lead in the tie-break. Fucsovics won five consecutive points, and then earned two set points at 6/4. But the Hungarian showed some nerves, hitting a couple of forehands into the net to allow Federer to take the lead.

But despite Federer breaking early in the second set, Fucsovics battled hard and regained his rhythm on the forehand wing to break back. At 4-4, Fucsovics fended off three break points when a slight rain began to fall, forcing a break in play that lasted less than 10 minutes (the second short rain delay of the match). While Federer could not convert another opportunity he earned after play resumed, Fucsovics could not fend off a fifth chance, missing a forehand down the line wide to give the Swiss a crucial second break in the set.

Federer won just two more points than Fucsovics, but he was able to advance in straight sets for the first time this week. Federer won 38 per cent of return points against the World No. 35.

"It's tricky to come back and just hit winners after [rain delays]. Sometimes it's a disadvantage. Sometimes it was an advantage. We made the most of it," Federer said. "The tie-break was tough. I'm happy I found a way to get out of that one. That was an exciting match, to say the least."

Federer now leads Fucsovics 2-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series after also defeating the Hungarian in straight sets at last year’s Australian Open.

Federer's next opponent, Coric, beat two-time ATP Tour champion Nikoloz Basilashvili 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(1) in two hours and 28 minutes. Coric defeated Federer twice last year, to win the Halle title and reach the Shanghai final.

"He's really found his game. I remember when he came up, I played him here actually [in 2015]. Then he also beat Murray here, beat Rafa in Basel," Federer said. "Then he struggled for a while, then found his game again. We've had a couple tough matches as of late. He beat me on two of those occasions. I think we're 2-2 in the past four... I'm happy for Borna to have really understood his game. That's really important at the top level if you want to win the big tournaments, which he has now."

Did You Know?

If Federer triumphs in Dubai, it will be the fourth tournament at which he has captured eight titles. He has lifted nine trophies in both Basel and Halle, while emerging victorious at Wimbledon eight times.

It wasn't pretty by any stretch, Roger was living dangerously throughout the match. He's still not playing nowhere near his best. 

Probably because it's only his 2nd tournament of the year. Hopefully Dubai helps him work out the kinks before Indian Wells in a few weeks. 

It doesn't get easier from here on.  Coric beat him twice last year, and if he gets past him he'll more than likely have to face the man who knocked him out of the Aussie Open.

Good time for some revenge. But his first serve percentage will have to be a lot higher, or his job will be made a lot more difficult. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Roger Federer records 50th Dubai win

Seven-time former champion Roger Federer recorded his 50th match win at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday night with a hard-fought 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over Fernando Verdasco, the 2017 finalist, in one hour and 35 minutes.

“I'm happy I actually stayed calm throughout the game," said Federer. "I felt like I was having a good feeling out there. Even though I wasn't playing my best, I still felt like it was going to fall my way when it really mattered. I think that confidence is kind of important in sports or in tennis. I'm happy I had it today… I played good at the end. I had the serve when I needed it, had some good shots, a good point on break point when I needed it. That was nice to win it that way.”

Federer, who was informed on court that it was his 50th victory, in Dubai admitted, “I was like, ‘Phew, 50, a lot of tennis here in Dubai. I'm very happy. It's a big number. I'm not sure if I'm going to get to 100. Let's put it that way (smiling).”

By moving to within three victories of capturing the 100th trophy of his career, Federer will next challenge Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, who was a 6-4, 6-2 victor over Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany earlier in the day. Federer beat Fucsovics in their only FedEx ATP Head2Head series meeting at the 2018 Australian Open.

“I know Marton quite well actually,” said Federer. “He came to Zurich to train with me. He was nice enough to come there. I don't remember how long we spent, but a few days practising together there. We had a great time. Then, I played him at the Australian Open last year. [It was a] good match… He's improved. He likes the fast surfaces. He likes to play up in the court. He has the power when required. I think it's going to be definitely a match that's going to test me tomorrow.”

In their first meeting for four years (2015 Dubai), Federer mixed up his service placement and tactics to keep Verdasco on the back foot. Verdasco double faulted to gift Federer a 3-1 advantage and was tentative on serve at 2-5, when the Spaniard recovered from 0/30. Federer, who lost five of his service points in the 28-minute opener, closed out when Verdasco hit a backhand return into the net.

In a dramatic reversal, centred largely on Federer moving away from serving to Verdasco’s slice backhand, the momentum of the match shifted. Verdasco saved a break point in the first game of the second set and soon found himself with a 3-0 lead. Federer continued to serve and volley off his first delivery, but Verdasco held his nerve to win his first set against the second seed since November 2009 at the Nitto ATP Finals (Federer won 4-6, 7-5, 6-1).

Federer looked to stamp his authority on the third set, early on, but Verdasco’s serve had great fluency and his movement on the baseline had improved. Federer saved one break point at 1-1, 30/40, and then held to love in his next two service games. A net cord winner for Federer at 4-3, with Verdasco serving at 30/30 set up a break point, which resulted in a 26-stroke rally. He is now 50-6 overall in Dubai.

“These best-of-three set matches, you're not always in control of everything because, like you saw at the end, a good five minutes from your opponent or a good five minutes from you can decide the outcome of the match,” said Federer. “You're definitely living on the edge at some point in the match. This is how it is.”

The 37-year-old Federer is attempting to become the second man in the Open Era to capture 100 singles title (after Jimmy Connors, 109). The Swiss superstar, the champion at the Aviation Club in 2003-05, 2007, 2012, 2014-2015, improves to a 5-1 record in 2019.

Earlier in the day, Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili broke a two-match losing streak against defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-3 in two hours and 12 minutes. He will next face sixth-seed Croatian Borna Coric, who needed two hours and 13 minutes to get past 2013-14 finalist Tomas Berdych 1-6, 6-1, 7-6(4).

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Roger Federer wants to have fun on clay

After four years away, Roger Federer is coming back to Roland Garros this summer. The 2009 champion has missed his time in the French capital and now he says: “I just want to play”

Fun comes in many forms: for some, it is a 10-mile run; for the rest of us, it is a 10-minute nap. But fun, it seems, for Roger Federer it is another shot at Roland Garros glory.

Now, much as we all love the two weeks of toil and drama on the red courts of Paris, it is not what you might call ‘fun’ for the competitors. The matches are long (even the straight sets ones), the pressure is huge and the battle for the second Grand Slam trophy of the season is deadly serious. Fun and games this ain’t. But Roger thinks it might be, so he is coming back to Roland Garros for the first time since 2015.

In 2016, he missed the French Open as he recovered from knee surgery. The following year, he thought it would be wise to let his body rest and recover from a stunning first three months of the year – he won the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami – and given that taking a two-and-a-half month sabbatical resulted in him storming back to win in Halle and Wimbledon, he thought he would use the same formula in 2018.

That did not work out quite so well: the mighty Fed won the Australian Open to claim his 20th Grand Slam title and then went to Rotterdam in pursuit of points and the No.1 ranking. He got them, too, but after that he could not keep up his relentless winning run.

No matter, at the age of 37, the GOAT is still happy to adapt and change. These days, with 99 career titles and 1183 match wins (and counting) to his name, he has earned the right to play as and when he likes.

He is not obliged to play any tournament if he does not want to (even if that does limit his ranking options and this week he sits at No.7 in the world) and so Fed trains smart, schedules clever and plays only when he feels his body is ready for the challenge. And this year, he thinks the heart, the legs and all the other bits are ready for the clay.

Before anyone starts putting two and two together to make five, Fed was at pains to point out that this sudden change of mind about Roland Garros does not mean that he is saying goodbye. This is not – he hopes – his last clay court season nor is this his farewell tour. The birthdays keep racking up but our hero is as keen as ever to keep on playing.

“This doesn't mean this is my last clay court season, or I had to play one more time before I retired. That was not the thinking,” Federer told the ATP website as he prepared for the start of the Dubai Duty Free Championships this week. “My body was ready, I was ready, my schedule with the family, my schedule with the team was ready to do it again. This is when I opted to say, ‘It will be nice. Instead of taking a big chunk off, I'd rather stay in the rhythm and actually enjoy myself on the clay.’ It's going to be challenging, no doubt about it. I have to take baby steps in the beginning to some extent, but that's OK.”

Federer has not played at all on clay since the Masters 1000 in Rome in 2016 where he lost in the third round to Dominic Thiem in straight sets. Reacquainting himself with life on the red brick dust may take a little time, then, and to sharpen his reflexes, he has entered the Mutua Madrid Open before he heads to Paris.

The Spanish capital sits 667m above sea level and the courts play a bit faster up there which should make Fed’s ‘baby steps’ a little easier. But down at Seine level, he knows he will need to be ready for the long haul. But still he is excited to be coming back to Roland Garros.

“I think after not playing for two years, also missing the French [Open] three years ago because of injury, I think the team understood that I was in the mood to do it again,” he said. “I did grow up on clay, after all. I felt like my body is strong enough now again to do the surface changes from hard to clay to grass to hard. In the past I felt different. It was purely based on [the fact that] I would just like to play. We can always readjust the schedule accordingly depending how I play the clay.”

And Fed can play on clay. He has reached five French Open finals in his time, and won one of them. The four he lost were all to a certain Mr R. Nadal of Mallorca – then again, that same Mr Nadal has never lost a Roland Garros final and he has won 11 of them. In his pomp on the red stuff, Fed was undoubtedly the second best clay court player on the planet – it was just that he kept bumping into the greatest clay court player of all time every time the trophy was within touching distance.

Injuries permitting, Rafa will be back to torment Roger again this summer. But the Swiss does not mind: he just wants to play on the clay again and have some fun. And if Roger is having fun, who knows what can happen.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Roger Federer one step closer to 100th title in Dubai

Roger Federer began his chase for tour-level title No. 100 on Monday at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, defeating German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. The Swiss now leads Kohlschreiber 14-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.

But the 37-year-old’s first match since his loss in the fourth round of the Australian Open to Stefanos Tsitsipas was not easy. While Federer looked in control early, breaking in the first game of the match and using that advantage to storm through the first set in 30 minutes, he was forced into a third set against Kohlschreiber for just the third time at an ATP Tour event. Ultimately, Federer forced an error with a strong cross-court forehand to break in his first return game of the decider and he held on to emerge victorious after one hour and 36 minutes.

"[My mindset was to] just somehow get through. Somehow try not to lose," Federer said. "I'm very pleased I was able to find a way. I actually played a really good third set, I thought."

Federer has only lost his opening match at a tournament once in the past 20 months, with that defeat coming in Miami last year against Thanasi Kokkinakis. Seven-time Dubai champion Federer now holds a 49-6 record at the ATP 500 event.

Early on, Federer dominated play with his first serve. He put Kohlschreiber on the back foot straight away, and only lost one first-serve point in the first set. But Kohlschreiber broke in his first return game of the second set, and began to put more pressure on the Swiss by placing his first-serve returns deeper in the court. That helped Kohlschreiber push Federer back, giving the German more chances to dictate play and force the 99-time tour-level champion to defend.

But the Swiss counter-punched well at the start of the third set to break Kohlschreiber and hold for 3-0, and Federer never looked back. While Kohlschreiber saved one break point at 1-4 with a beautifully angled backhand off of a drop volley, he could not avoid going down a double-break.

Federer hit a backhand passing shot straight at Kohlschreiber on his next opportunity, forcing an error before holding to love to clinch his victory. The 6'1" right-hander is trying to become just the second player in the Open Era to lift 100 tour-level trophies (after Jimmy Connors, 109).

The second seed will next face Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, who battled back to defeat qualifier Thomas Fabbiano 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Like with Kohlschreiber, Federer holds a lopsided FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead against Verdasco having triumphed in all six of their previous matches. The Swiss has won 13 of the 14 sets he has played against the 35-year-old left-hander, including a straight-sets victory in their most recent meeting, also in Dubai, four years ago.

"I think he's got one of those wonderful forehands on the [ATP] Tour. We've seen the great shot-making he has been able to produce over the course of his career," Federer said. "I'm happy that he's still going. I think he's a good player. He can definitely peak against the top guys. I think that's why he's still playing, for those kinds of matches, so I have to be careful."

While Federer survived the first round in Dubai for the 13th time in his 14th appearance, two seeds were upset on the first day of action.

World No. 12 Karen Khachanov suffered his fourth first-round defeat of the season, as Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili ousted the fourth-seeded Russian 6-4, 6-1 in 70 minutes. Basilashvili has enjoyed plenty of success at ATP 500 tournaments, winning his first two ATP Tour titles at this level last season in Hamburg and Beijing. The World No. 19 will next face defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut, who defeated Indian wild card Ramkumar Ramanathan 6-4, 6-3.

German Jan-Lennard Struff surprised seventh seed Milos Raonic 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. Raonic had an overhead just a few feet from the net to save match point, but the former World No. 3 hit the smash down into the net. Struff will play for a spot in the quarter-finals against Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, who beat Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 7-6(5).

Did You Know?

- Federer has only lost once in his first-round match in Dubai. That defeat came 11 years ago against then-World No. 11 Andy Murray.

- With Khachanov and Raonic's losses, the only seeded player remaining on Federer's half of the draw is sixth seed Borna Coric.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Roger Federer chasing his 100th tour title in Dubai

Chasing his 100th tour-level trophy, Roger Federer will begin his quest for a record eighth Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships title against Philipp Kohlschreiber.

The seven-time champion, who most recently lifted the trophy in 2015 (d. Djokovic), will be making his first tour-level appearance since falling to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open fourth round last month. With a perfect 13-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head series record against Kohlschreiber, Federer will be aiming to improve to 13-1 in first-round matches at the ATP 500 event. Andy Murray is the only man to have beaten the 99-time tour-level titlist in the first round, having defeated Federer in three sets in 2008.

If Federer comes through his opening match against Kohlschreiber, the Swiss could potentially face Fernando Verdasco in the second round. Federer shares the bottom quarter of the draw with seventh-seeded Canadian Milos Raonic, who has opened his 2019 campaign with seven wins from 10 matches. The former World No. 3 reached back-to-back quarter-finals in Brisbane and at the Australian Open, before a second-round loss to eventual finalist Stan Wawrinka in Rotterdam.

Karen Khachanov and Borna Coric will both feature in the same half of the draw as Federer. Khachanov, who opens against Nikoloz Basilashvili, will be eager to return to winning ways after back-to-back opening-match losses in Sofia (l. to Berrettini) and Rotterdam (l. to Griekspoor). After suffering a second-round defeat to Ugo Humbert in Marseille, Coric will be bidding to reach his third quarter-final in four appearances in Dubai.

In the top half, No. 1 seed Kei Nishikori will be aiming to extend his winning streak against Benoit Paire to four matches. The Dubai debutant owns a 5-2 FedEx ATP Head2Head record against Paire and will be hoping to continue his strong start to the season. Nishikori has reached the quarter-finals or better in each of his three tournament outings this year, which includes his title run at the Brisbane International (d. Medvedev) last month. Nishikori is joined in the top quarter of the draw by Australian Open semi-finalist Tsitsipas, who is aiming to lift his second ATP Tour title this week in Marseille.

Two-time Dubai quarter-finalist Marin Cilic will return to the event for the first time since 2010. The third seed faces a tough opener against recently-crowned Rotterdam champion Gael Monfils. The in-form Frenchman is unbeaten in three FedEx ATP Head2Head encounters against Cilic.

Eighth seed Daniil Medvedev could meet the winner of that match in the quarter-finals. The 23-year-old Russian opens against a qualifier, with a potential second-round clash against Sofia semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini or Denis Kudla.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Roger Federer will start his clay campaign at Madrid Open

Roger Federer announces he will play May’s Madrid Open in the run-up to Roland Garros, marking his first appearance on clay since 2016 – and first in the Spanish capital in four years.

Roger Federer has confirmed his participation for this year’s Madrid Open, which will mark his first appearance during the European clay-court season after two years away.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion has not played this year since his Australian Open fourth-round defeat by Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in January.

Federer, whose sole French Open title came in 2009, has preferred to skip the European clay season over the last two seasons in a bid to better manage his schedule.

The 37-year-old Swiss is the second most successful player at the Caja Magica behind Rafa Nadal, winning three titles in 2006, 2009 and 2012.

“Federer is one of the best players of all time, it’s no secret,” tournament director Feliciano Lopez said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We are happy because his return to Madrid is a gift to the tournament, but above all the fans will be able to see a unique player in the Caja Magica. Having the Swiss player back on clay with Djokovic and Nadal is going to be unmissable.”

World No.1 Novak Djokovic and 11-times French Open winner Nadal are also expected to feature at the Madrid Open, which will be played from May 3-12.

Federer’s last appearance in Madrid came in 2015, where he lost his opening-round match to Nick Kyrgios in a third set tiebreak.

He has not won a match at the Caja Magica since 2013, when he beat Radek Stepanek in the second round before falling to Kei Nishikori in the last 16.

The 37-year-old Swiss is currently ranked No.7, yet has an opportunity to work his way back up the list in the coming months.

After Indian Wells, where he was a finalist last year, Federer has a mere 10 ranking points to defend until the grass-court season in June.