Roger Federer won the Masters 1000 tournament in Cincinnati on Sunday, beating Novak Djokovic in convincing fashion, 6-1 and 7-5. A day before, he also beat Andy Murray in straight sets, 6-2 and 7-6. These are 2 of the top 4 whose best surface is hard courts and many expected them to beat Roger. In fact, the odds-makers pegged Murray for the win in the semifinal. But what we saw was vintage Federer or TMF, The Mighty Fed, back in action. He dominated the young guns, the very people contending for his US Open title in a week.
It was really surprising to see Fed play so well after watching his 2 previous matches against Ferrer and Hewitt. He even dropped a set to Ferrer. I thought in both matches he was playing so-so, just enough to win. I was actually worried Murray would beat him, because Murray’s been playing very clean tennis lately. But man, Fed flew right out of the gates and attacked ruthlessly. He jumped on every short ball and was blasting forehand winners all over the place. I was happy he taught Murray a lesson. Murray’s just too cocky with the stuff he’s been saying lately. Federer in top form, is the best player in the world and there isn’t anything you can do about it.
I really like having Darren Cahill and Brad Gilbert as commentators, because they pick up quickly on tactics that the players are using. I generally tend to agree with Cahill more though. Fed’s first serve percentage in the 1st set was way low but he won 100% of those first serve points. And his 2nd serve into the body gave Murray all sorts of trouble. Murray likes to return a lot of junk balls and man Federer attacked every single one. He put on a clinic. Murray never even got to deuce or had a break point on Fed’s serve.
It was the same thing with Djokovic. Fed came out swinging and went on to crush Djokovic 6-1 in the first set. There’s nothing Djokovic could do, just look at his reaction when he got on the scoreboard at 5-1. Federer put on another masterclass. He dropped serve in the 2nd set but broke right back and was putting pressure on all of Djokovic’s service games. I think they hit deuce every time on Djokovic’s serve. He broke again to go up 6-5 and served it out.
Federer Back in Form
Fed established a bad record against the top 4 earlier this year, while he was struggling with back problems. But then since Madrid, he’s been on a tear. We all know he’s had a great summer but he beat Nadal on clay and now Murray/Djokovic back to back on hard court. And in all these matches he won in straight sets very convincingly. What can the naysayers come up with now? I’d say TMF is still the man to beat at the USO.
The most significant thing I noticed during the weekend was Federer’s running cross-court forehand and greatly improved footwork. He was using this shot in response to blasts from his opponents, whereas earlier in the week and at Montreal, it looked like he was barely getting to those corner balls and just scooping them back into play. He also played unbelievably well at net and made difficult volleys look easy.
Federer is 28 and he’s beating these 22 year olds who are basically in their primes. I think the only real challenge to Federer is Nadal with his high bouncing lefty topspin to Fed’s backhand. Fed knows this too, why do you think he always has lefty hitting partners in his off-season training sessions? This is the one area of weakness for Fed’s one-handed backhand.
Unfortunately, Nadal’s battling back from knee tendinitis. Nadal is clearly not in form. I say this in all honesty – I really want to see Nadal back in top form so he can play Federer. I’m concerned Nadal may never quite recover. I want to see Fed step up to the challenge and even out their head-to-head record. If these young guns can’t keep up, Fed may wreck the tour just like he did in his prime. Think about this – he may go on to win more majors and Masters 1000 titles, setting records that may never get broken. At the moment, Fed’s holding down a 2nd generation of tennis players – think about that. Before it was Roddick, Hewitt, Safin, Nalbandian, Henman, and others. Now it’s Murray, Djokovic, Nadal, Del Potro, etc.
My Speculative (Perhaps Nonsensical) Theory About Montreal
After seeing Fed play in Montreal and Cincy before the weekend, I was really shocked at how Federer raised his level of play so suddenly. That’s why I think Fed may have lost on purpose to Tsonga in Montreal, just to pace himself and have more rest. It’s just that Tsonga was playing so badly, Fed finally had to completely throw his game out to lose at the end. Tsonga lost in the 2nd round to a qualifier the following week at Cincy. Do you really think Fed would lose to Tsonga when he was up a double-break and served for the match twice?! It’s just too ridiculous to believe since he wasn’t injured. He was playing so nonchalantly and even practicing sidestepping serves to blast forehand returns. Just shanking all over and missing first serves.
I think he was just working off some rust at Montreal and preparing to win Cincy. Winning Cincy in the way he did sends a real message to all the other players, especially the top 4. It’s like saying “this is what I can do, bring it.” It is notoriously difficult to win Cincy if you go deep at Montreal. And playing 2 weeks of tennis everyday right before the US Open may not be good for Federer. I mean, he is 28.
They play everyday at these Masters events and it’s not like they have a day in between to work on stuff. So to improve so suddenly, to me it indicates that level of play was already there. My wild theory is that Fed played down to Ferrer and Hewitt, not wanting to show his real stuff. He knows he’s being scouted during his matches so he does just enough to win. Ferrer gave him a good fight but Hewitt was injured so that latter match was easy. Because that running cross-court forehand was no where to be seen. And Ferrer and Hewitt both play like Murray; they’re counter-punchers and don’t have huge weapons. But Federer was no where near as agressive as he was against Murray.