Federer v Berdych AO QF

The first QF is underway. Looks like another live blog here at Matt’s blog. I watched the first two sets closely and they’re in the third now, on serve, Federer about to even it at 4-4. The first set was very solid, both players trading breaks of serve and Federer taking firm command in the TB to win 7-4. Berdych did save a set point earlier at 4-5, but Roger was able to win the TB in convincing fashion and create some momentum he rode into the second where he won pretty easily. The second set, especially early-on where he secured control, consolidated an early break, was a tremendous Federer exhibit, or should we say master class.

Roger just broke Berdych at 4-4 in a very tight game and has served-out the match. Federer is on to the SF where he awaits the winner of the next match between Djokovic and Nishikori, world #1 vs #7. I have to work tomorrow, but I think I’ll get a little work done now, after this short post, and watch the first ball toss at midnight California time. I am quite interested to see how Djokovic responds after that strange five-setter against Simon. I suspect he will make fairly easy work of Kei, just to prove a point, but when was the last time you saw Djokovic struggle through five sets like that? And Kei seems to have some form though I’m not sure how quality that win over Tsonga is. Either way, should be good, of course with the winner to play Mr. Federer in the SF.

So, how about the Fed/Berdych match in light of my post yesterday regarding Federer’s strategy at certain points in the match, mainly concerning a more defensive stance? Quite fun to watch the match unfold with terrific commentary from the younger McEnroe and Brad Gilbert (easily one of the best) in the booth, along with Cahill sitting court-side.

My post yesterday speaks to a long-shot strategy since Federer’s tennis is so naturally offensive. I mentioned that, but think he might be terribly tougher to beat if he played a little more cat and mouse. Again, these players already employ these kinds of adjustments of which I speak, so I am not talking about something that Roger never does. But after watching Simon drive Djokovic and much of the tennis audience crazy with that safe/defensive tennis, I was reminded of something I’ve thought Roger should try for years.

When you are playing these tennis backboards (the defense-first player), who feast on players trying to break the backboard, you have to rethink the approach every once in a while. Moreover, when a player is putting you under pressure, you have to think survival first, encourage them to keep attacking, defend the attack, put pressure on their offense, facilitate their error.

The Dimitrov/Federer 3R match was an example of Federer not making the adjustment and paying the price, losing a set. Roger tried to counter attack Dimitrov’s raised level. Roger was under too much pressure to play offensively. Therefore, he looked terrible trying to force his style, losing his timing, looking lost, in general.

Listening to the commentary tonight in the Fed/Berdych match was insightful on this concern. First of all, Cahill said he recalls Verdasco talking about playing Roger compared to playing almost anyone else on tour. You play one set against Roger and you feel like you’ve played three sets. Because of the constant pressure from Roger (short ball gets obliterated, chip and charge, BHDTL, etc.) players have to work so much harder on practically every shot. That’s my point. He’s almost entirely offensive. One can see why Nadal, Djokovic and Murray emerged the way they did and have stayed on top of tennis for so long. At the same time, one should see how impressive this makes Roger’s run. He’s from a different era, I would argue (I have argued).

Tonight’s commentators were underscoring Federer’s massively offensive game. Speaking to Verdasco’s comment, Cahill mentioned that Berdych looked worse down 0-2 (sets) to Fed than he looked after his five-setter with Agut.

Roger’s offense took, as Gilbert might say, full flight in today’s match. This is vintage Federer. The serve was working (~70% first) and he was pushing Berdych around the court, a player with a big game who has beaten Federer at majors in 2010 (WB) and 2012 (USO). He also has wins against Roger at Dubai (2013) and Cincy (2011). Roger really lifted his form in the TB and the second set, especially. Berdych is not a push-over. Roger is showing pretty damn good form. For now.

But I want to focus on the first four games of the second set. Federer has won the TB and getting ready to put some pressure on Berdych early in this second. He breaks Berdych, consolidates, Berdych holds, and Roger is serving at 2-1. Berdych absolutely nukes two winners to go 0-30. Roger makes it 15-30.

Then the point that made my point and Patrick Mac was all over it. Roger serving 15-30, needing to hold and maintain the break, knowing he’s got Berdych, more or less, on the ropes. Watch the rally. Roger goes defensive, hits 4-5 more conservative shots up the middle, lets Berdych control the point a bit, but Roger is staying in the point – this is the most important part of this, something I think he abandons on occasion. The rally continues, nothing fancy, until Berdych tries to hit a nice CC FH, upon which Roger chases it down, he’s past the doubles alley, and he rips a beautiful CC FH winner – pure attack tennis. BUT he waited for the opportunity. He maintained the rally, knowing the importance of the point. The attack came, sure. BUT he waited. He was more patient. Smarter.

McEnroe was all over it. Roger was conservative and though such a point doesn’t show-up on the sheet, never really gets recalled, it was critical. He held for 3-1 and went on to break again and take the second 6-2.

Though this was just a small window into the mind of the Maestro, I wish he’d employ this strategy more. He can hit with anyone. Can you imagine a strategy in which Roger, at specific points in a match, chooses to just hit with his opponent and wait for the opportunity to kill him? Roger’s brain doesn’t really work this way: he is going to kill on practically every shot.

Fun to follow this odd avenue of investigation. The match within the match.

By the way, no signs of SABR. Gilbert thinks Roger was instructed to shelve that “weapon” for the time being. Bravo, Ivan. Keep working.

An hour until Nole v Kei. Good luck, gentlemen.

Update: sticking with my theme here, did you watch any of this 2nd QF? Watch it with my defensive tennis discussion in mind. This match was over four games into the first set. I watched, literally, five games and then went to bed. Nishikori tried to end every point on every shot. His strategy was to finish this tennis match as quickly as he could. Did he realize he was playing the #1 in the world, a guy who relishes going five and practically dying in the process? Look at the first four games of the set. Nishikori looks good, even has a break-point, but then he completely comes off the rails. You won’t exactly hit Novak off the court. That strategy blew-up in his face.

To even have a chance against Novak, you have to be able to defend. That may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s not. The Simon match was not a fluke.

If Roger tries to hit winners on every shot, or even every other shot, Novak will straight-set Roger (as good as Roger is playing). If Roger can adopt a more conservative approach, we have ourselves a match. We’re talking about rallies. Roger needs to serve like a monster and be strategic from the baseline.

Just contrast the Simon and Nishikori matches. The weather/time of day did not have that much of an influence. The strategy made all the difference.

Let’s see if Roger understands this difference.

Update II: Is Tignor at Tennis.com reading my blog? He ripped-off my argument, almost verbatim. Ha ha. Thanks for reading, pal.

2 thoughts on “Federer v Berdych AO QF

  1. Nambi

    Matt, good one as usual…I am somewhat confused between attacking and ultra defensive strategies Roger needed if he needs to get win against No.1 Player…. In Both SW and USO, its his aggressive which earned many breakpoints, but on those Big points, it feels like he caught in dilemma as how aggressive needed…Most of time he tries to play safe then lose them… So he has to come up with much balanced approach in all points, or try to stay ultra aggressive in BPs (as he hadn’t won many staying back in last two finals)……. May be you guys can give bit more insight on that…

    I am hoping for good competitive match.. Roger may need his first serves and FH firing to make it competitive… Novak is sure favorite I think regardless how sloppy he played so far.. Considering contenders on bottom half, most likely either one of these guys winning it all…Let’s see..Cheers..

    Like

    1. Nambi,
      I think Roger’s past experience with Novak, and the Simon and Nishikori matches make this terribly clear: to beat Novak you will have to outlast him, out-consistent him, out-patient him . . . if any of that makes sense. Roger has had success in a best-of-three because it’s shorter and he may simply be in better form (Cincy). But in a five set match, at a major where Novak is completely dialed-in, you will have to out-smart him.

      I don’t even mean this just in terms of Novak. Roger can out hit 80% of the field on a regular basis. But he needs to dial it back a bit when he gets into a tighter match. Hit with them. Trade ground strokes. Let them take risks. Wait for an opportunity.

      I stand by this: If Roger tries to attack and play that kind of overly offensive style he’s famous for, the match will be Novak in 3, maybe 4, sets.

      Like

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