June 10, 2005
Misfiring Federer still unbeaten on grass despite loss of form
From Chris Bowers in Halle, Germany
IT WAS not a demonstration of invincibility, but Roger Federer’s 26th consecutive win on grass left him quietly confident about his preparations for Wimbledon. For the second match running, Federer failed to exude the smoothness of performance that has enabled him to win the Gerry Weber Open and Wimbledon in the past two years, yet his 6-2, 6-4 win over Florian Mayer, of Germany, left the impression more of a Rolls-Royce with a spark plug misfiring than of a player seriously struggling for form.
“My head felt clearer,” the Swiss said afterwards, happy to have avoided the brush with defeat that came with his tight three-set win over Robin Soderling on Tuesday. “I think playing doubles yesterday helped and it was definitely easier as he (Mayer) gave me more chances on my serve. But I felt better mentally, I felt more secure, even though I got broken twice, and I felt I played well at the baseline and the net, so this was an improvement.”
More important, Federer was quick to dismiss any suggestion that his defeat by Rafael Nadal in the French Open semi-finals a week ago has knocked his immense confidence. “I take losses easier now because I win so much,” Federer said. “It doesn’t even ruin my day. I recovered the feeling very quickly from the match against Nadal. I didn’t play well that day, but I can deal with losses without a problem. In knockout tennis, losses are normal.”
Nevertheless, it was hard to dismiss the thought that, after playing peerless tennis for most of the past two years, the world No 1 is having to make a mental adjustment to deal with someone who can be classed a genuine rival. When he broke Mayer in the sixth game to lead 4-2, it should have opened the floodgates. But although Federer cruised to 6-2 in only 23 minutes, he lost his way early in the second set.
A run of streaky returns from Mayer at 1-1 led to Federer losing his serve and, while he got the break straight back, a misjudged smash that came off the top of his frame led to a second break for Mayer to lead 4-3. At that point, Federer belted his racket on the top of the net in frustration.
Had the German been in the kind of form that took him to last year’s Wimbledon quarter-finals, he might have made Federer pay, but he has scarcely won a match in the past 50 weeks and Federer had no difficulty breaking twice to set up today’s quarter-final against Philipp Kohlschreiber, of Germany.
Nadal’s defeat by Alexander Waske, of Germany, on Wednesday deprived the tournament of a Federer-Nadal semi-final. “I would have liked to have played him here,” Federer said. “It’ll be nice to play him on grass to see how good he really is.”
It might have helped any budding doubts in Federer’s inner confidence to have had another crack at the young Spaniard so soon after his defeat in Paris, especially on his favourite surface, but instead he may have to contend with Nadal’s predecessor as Spain’s grand slam event-winning hero, Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Two years ago, Ferrero conquered the traditional Spanish antipathy for grass by reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon. The points he earned helped him to top the world rankings for eight weeks in the autumn of 2003 before a series of injuries forced him out of the top 30 last year.
The experience he gained on grass is standing him in good stead this week and yesterday he looked particularly impressive against Waske, winning 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 in a match with just one break of serve, surprising given both men’s love of hugging the baseline.
Although always calm externally, Ferrero let slip a modicum of resentment at the disappearance of the hordes of Spanish television crews who descended on Halle for Nadal’s match on Wednesday. “I think they should have stayed,” Ferrero said. “I think it shows they don’t respect my tennis.”
Ferrero plays the revitalised Tommy Haas, of Germany, today, with the winner likely to face Federer in the semi-finals on Saturday.