So far so good for Roger Federer, who is a perfect 2-0 under new coach Jose Higueras at Estoril this week. It’s not an impressive 2-0 – beating Olivier Rochus and today Victor Hanescu is no cause for celebration – but I’m sure at this point given the year Federer has had – mono or no mono, zero final appearances through the first three months – he’ll take it. And in the first round he did manage his first three set win since January, beating Rochus in the distance, so that’s a good sign.
But the main story this week is Federer getting with Higueras. And credit to Fed for swallowing some pride (recall Fed once told Sports Illustrated that he could figure out his opponents in 15 seconds) and making the call, even if it’s only week-to-week trial with Jose.
“I am excited as I have asked Jose Higueras, one of the most respected and accomplished coaches in the world of tennis, to join me,” Federer said. “We are going to spend the week together to see if we could make a good team.”
Fact is, Federer needed to make a change, any change. New haircut, new girlfriend, maybe add a tattoo. He needed to do something. What use to work – conferring with Mirka or Yves or sheiks in Dubai – was no longer working. The pack was catching up, his aura of invincibility was vanishing. Something needed to happen to shake things up, and he made the move. I think the partnership with Higueras, who’s also coached Jim Courier, Michael Chang and Pete Sampras, is a good fit and should help Fed get back in the winner’s circle. Though it will be hard to come by this week with Nikolay Davydenko lurking as possible finalist opponent.
If the rain in Estoril continues it should help Federer, who finds his footing more stable in the “slop” than on the slick, dry clay. And a meeting with Davydenko in the final would be an excellent measuring stick of just where the Swiss is and what we can expect of him this clay season.
Now back to this weekend.
It’s been a busy week for me, and I know I’m a few days late, but allow me to close up last weekend’s D-Cup. First, I know I’ve been pretty awful with the picks in ‘08, but in Davis Cup I’m a perfect 12-0 this year after nailing all four quarterfinal winners. I admit, picking D-Cup hasn’t been that difficult this season, but like Fed, after the stretch I’ve had I’m going to run with it and raise it up the flagpole.
As for the results, nothing really too surprising as I suspected. Nice to see Marat Safin finally find some sort of form in beating play-a-like Tomas Berdych in five. Russia took the tie when Berdych retired with a bum right leg in the fifth set against Davydenko on Sunday. David Nalbandian and his favored Argentine Gauchos got through on Sweden when David did what David does best, win in five sets, beating Robin Soderling 9-7 in the fifth, in another typical Nalbandian match.
Then of course there’s the curious case of Richard Gasquet, who did what Richard Gasquet does best, and that is bail out. According to French coach Guy Forget, Gasquet was too injured to play on Friday and too scared to play on Sunday when his team needed him to keep hope alive against Roddick and the U.S.
And Forget wasn’t shy about ripping into his top guy. “[Richard] didn’t want to play Roddick because he felt Roddick was playing too good for him, that he probably had no chance. … You know, I’m disappointed that he was not fit to play, he was not mentally confident. He had no will to going out, although he was probably not in the best possible shape.”
“No will to going out.” That’s a tough statement. But it’s a true one.
Gasquet had passed on the live Roddick match, but did make himself available for a deciding fifth if it came to that. But as I’m sure he figured, Roddick did his part clinching the tie over Mathieu allowing Richard to breathe a big sigh of relief in knowing he wouldn’t have to invent another excuse and pull out of a live fifth. Hope you enjoyed your weekend, Richard, good career move. I’m sure the French press won’t hit you too hard for that effort.
Gasquet, in my mind he’s one of the ten best players in the game, and among the top 3 talent-wise, but he’s going to have to get his act together between the ears, grow some stones and find a “will” if he’s going to make any further headway in the game. It’s just that simple.
As for the semifinal matchups, we are left with the U.S. at Spain and Russia and Argentina. Looking forward to late September.
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