Get Roger Federer to a final, deciding set and the odds shift precipitously in your favor. For the year, Federer has just four wins in a final set on hardcourts this year. Losses? Well, after today make it eight, that after Federer was stunned by Frenchman Julien Benneteau 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the second round at the Paris Indoors.
“I can definitely play much better, but I can also play much worse,” said Federer who slumps to 6-13 in deciding sets on hardcourts since 2008 Wimbledon. “It wasn’t a bad performance. I think Julien, he went out and got the victory. You know, I definitely had chances. I missed them. Seems to happen a bit to me now, you know, looking back at the Basel final or the US Open final. I just have to make sure I don’t let chances go by like this all the time.”
Credit Benneteau, the guy was on fire. Commentator Robbie Koenig remarked that at one point Julien had hit 25 first serves in row in the box. That’s pretty good stuff.
What’s even more interesting about the loss is just hours earlier it looked like Federer stood on the brink of wrapping up the coveted year-end No. 1 ranking. No 2 Rafael Nadal came into Paris within striking distance but found himself with his back against the wall against him countryman, Nicolas Almagro, who was serving for the match at 6-5, 40-0. But Almagro unraveled and Nadal escaped saving FIVE matchpoints to steal the second set in tiebreaker.
Almagro wasn’t done, though. After Nadal opened with a break right away to start the third, Almagro somehow kept his composure and surged to go up a break in the third. Nadal, as he shown so many times, would go away and fought back to get the lead eventually closing out Almagro 7-5.
Credit to Rafa, he had no business winning that match. For the baby-faced Almagro, wherever he is right now he’s surely thinking about the breaks he held and those five match points he blew. (Though his girlfriend should help ease the pain!)
Back to Roger. While it looks like No. 1 is good bet, you have to wonder where his game is. In the last 3.5 months the Swiss has just one Top 10 win – Djokovic at the Open – and his other wins haven’t been all that impressive. So, unless he’s decided to coast through these final few weeks, the London event should be a good measuring stick for his level.
Andy Murray also struggled today needing a third set tiebreak to get through James Blake. Murray is now a perfect 13-0 on the year indoors. Novak Djokovic began the day with a tough straight set victory over Juan Monaco. The Argentine was up a break in both sets before letting each lead wither away.
Sandwiched among the fireworks from the top players was the final ATP match for Marat Safin. The outspoken Russian fought hard and well but in the end Juan Martin Del Potro was simply the better player defeating the two-time Slam champ 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.
“I was a decent player,” Safin told reporters afterwards. “Just in general, I’ve been great to everybody, even if I had a few fights with chair umpires.”
He added, “Now I have no schedule, no practices, no nothing. I belong to myself. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and see what I want to do.”
Safin also said a book, a la Andre Agassi, was not in his future. Perhaps a full length feature film would do his career better justice anyway? Tennis will miss him.
Going into Paris I thought the top guys would be struggling with their game and their motivation this week and today they all did. Let’s see if these tough opening matches provide them with a wakeup call or perhaps they are simply foreshadowing of what’s to come.
That said, tomorrow’s forecast calls for even more fireworks as Murray meets Radek Stepanek, Delpo is dealt Fernando Gonzalez, Fernando Verdasco faces Marin Cilic and Benneteau gets my man, Gael Monfils. With Federer out Gael really, really, really has a chance to put up a great result in Paris. He needs to step up here.
In the bottom half, Nadal meets another Spaniard, Tommy Robredo, Djokovic clashes with Arnuad Clement, Nikolay Davydenko and Robin Soderling square off and in the second all-French battle of the day, Gilles Simon tangles with Jo Tsonga.
If you are looking for an upset I’d pick Stepanek over Murray. I don’t think the record of players who finish well after 1am and have to come back to play the following day (same day actually!) is very good. Plus, Radek has the game to complete the job. Really, though, any of the top players could go down tomorrow. It’s just that time of year. Should be fun to watch.
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