Great champions rise up. And Roger Federer did just that rising up today with a convincing 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 win over rival David Nalbandian in the Monte Carlo quarterfinals. Despite entering the match on a 7-match dirt win streak, Federer has been on shaky footing, not just on clay but on any surface this year. The Swiss has looked anything like a World No. 1, showing flashes of brilliance but mostly ordinary if not sub-par stuff for most of the season.
With the field catching up and with the fear factor waning, Federer needed this win over Nalbandian more than anything and he got it, and he got it in fine style playing a brand of tennis we haven’t seen from him in quite a while.
What a difference a few days make for Federer who could hardly keep the ball in play Wednesday against the lowly Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo in a match he ultimately should have lost.
Much different story today against Nalbandian who he had last two twice late last year. Federer was striking the ball exceptionally well, moving fluidly, serving good and even producing some fancy drop shots.
I thought the key was in the first set. Even though he lost it, Federer wasn’t missing easy shots or shanking balls like he has been. He was hanging in the points and even outrallying Nalbandian. I think David recognized that Federer was playing well and he knew he’d have to up his game and grind out long points to win the match, and that was asking too much for the Argentine who is not going to be able to produce as many winners on a slower surface like he can on an indoor hard court as he did last fall. David didn’t seem up for the task of grinding out long rallies. Credit to Fed.
Am I surprised? Somewhat. I’m not totally surprised at the result, even though I had picked David. But I’m more surprised at just how well Federer played – where has this level of play been hiding? What brought it out?
The guy played probably the best match he’s played on clay match in a long, long time.
So has the real Federer now returned? Is he officially over his lull? Can we finally put the mono to rest? Maybe, maybe and maybe.
Time will only tell, but as we saw and heard by his reaction on match point this one meant a lot to the Swiss. And I think he’s got to let out a big sigh of relief getting that first big win of the season and shutting up the doubters (yes, me for one) at least for a little while. In the near term his confidence should be soaring and I think he’ll even regain some of that lockerroom aura he had lost.
Federer now gets a rematch with Novak Djokovic, a winner in the last match over Sam Q. Novak’s no slouch on clay and has looked really good this week, but I would now give Federer the edge in that one. I think Roger will ride the high from today’s win to another tomorrow and set up a meeting with Rafael Nadal, who might very struggle against Nikolay Davydenko, that is if the Russian is fit.
While I still don’t like Fed’s chances against Rafa on clay if it happens, at least for now it seems as though Federer Express is back on track.
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