Well, that’s my theory at least.
We have to expect that he’ll begin to play less and less if he actually intends to play another year or two. Remember the context of this 2018 Federer, some of which was provided by this blog. HRFRT was written when Federer had 17 majors, along with the rest of his lofty curriculum vitae (as of 2016). Was I writing an obituary? No. But maybe? Either way, the damage had been done, the ruination having put certain pieces into motion, the game changed irreversibly foreverer.
That he’s playing like this, having begun this latest and last crusade in January 2017, continues to defy much of what we know. Winning the sunshine double last year (in a way) was perhaps as amazing as winning Melbourne. Especially after winning Melbourne.
He made it to the Indian Wells final last week, having won Melbourne again in 2018, and Rotterdam to secure #1, so the fact that he took a dive here in Miami isn’t shocking on a few levels.
I’m not saying he took a dive (he took a dive). And I don’t see him ever coming back to Key Biscayne. Did you see what I did there? Whether or not he ever plays the Miami Open again, I know he’ll never be back at Key Biscayne. 😀
Everyone knows the Miami Open is moving from Key Biscayne to the Miami Dolphins Hardrock stadium complex in 2019, which I guess will be built-out to host an ATP 1000. Good for them, I suppose, but I gathered from some little bird that Federer was less than impressed. The stadium court will be, essentially, an American football stadium (let’s call that a reach for a tennis venue).
I just don’t think, for him, Miami has the class of IW, so I see him in the future making the trip to California as these early hard courts peak, but then, for the most part, calling this winter-and-early-spring-tennis- fling done and done. Indeed, Indian Wells and then onto his Ljubičićian break, missing the carnage of clay, and returning once the ball finds the grass.
Is that a California bias? Why not?
As I watched, for instance, Federer play Coric in Stadium 1 last week in Indian Wells in the first SF match, this southern California desert and mountain oasis resonates all kinds of tennis significance. Larry Ellison, according to any player I’ve heard asked, has built a 1500 level tournament, not a major, obviously, but one that rises above the other 1000s. His financial and luxury backgrounds have made an already featured stop on the tour a majestic tennis experience for fan and player alike.
Moreover, as I watched the Swiss and Croatian play an enormously entertaining and brilliant tennis match, there were several occasions when Federer served and/or received at my end of the court, of course, the one where Ellison’s box is elegantly perched. Who do I see last Saturday, perhaps 12 feet from Roger, taking in this brilliant racket and ball buzz machine? The Rocket Rod Laver and Pistol Pete Sampras. The three of these all-timers could have been holding hands. The tennis excellence and class among the afternoon thump of the ball, through the slight breeze and shadow fall of the cool blue and green court, the crowd getting pushed and pulled — this all truly emboldens this character and legacy-enriched garden of tennis legends.
I think Federer not only enjoys this tournament more; I think he’s going to in the future have to make a decision like he did this week. Play one and not the other.
Kokkinakis beat Federer today. I saw the contest with my own eyes. But if you looked closely, between the still several brilliant shots from Federer, he made poor decisions, executed poorly and given his post-match declaration that he’s going on break, pretty much waved the flag.
This match reminded me of the IW final quite a bit. First of all, Thanasi’s serve and FH carried the 21 year-old all the way to the finish line, despite help from Roger. How the young Aussie was able to hold some of those critical service games in the second, but especially the third, set was Juan Martin-like. Seriously. The power from these two big hitters gave Federer trouble. And of course Federer unable to pin these guys to their BHs also played a role. DelPo’s BH is better, but you get the picture. Federer, as we know from Federer of old, can get a little lazy, a little sloppy (or he’s just tired).
The critical stat was how Federer handled Kokkinakis’ second serve. In the deuce court, Federer simply didn’t do enough with this much more vulnerable serve. Federer drifted behind the BL and allowed his opponent to take control, which was almost insane given the circumstances. This Kokkinakis SS in the ad court was usually met with a Federer offensive BH hit from inside the court. This worked for Fed. But overall, on this Kokkinakis SS, too many missed opportunities.
And let’s face it, like the Del Potro IW final, there were a few critical games where Federer had every chance to break and put this kid deep; but he couldn’t. Game one of the second set. Break there and that’s probably enough. Or in the third set with Thanasi serving 2-3 and I think 3-4 — Federer had the looks, but it just wasn’t to be.
That sometimes very fallible FH made quite a showing today in Federer’s game. The Aussie out aced him, as well (and out DF’ed him). Federer had the chances, but couldn’t close.
Thanasi’s confidence was also DelPo-like. This kid wasn’t rattled, really ever. Even with Federer serving-out the first set, finding the break in the fourth game, The Aussie found his footing and was right there, making Federer hold his slim lead. The kid’s confidence only grew as the match wore-on.
He’s about as tall as Juan Martin, has a big serve and FH like the Argentine (a little more top-spin perhaps), has an inborn confidence that’s had many people excited about this kid for a while, along with this rest of his game, and he just beat Federer at a Masters 1000.
Good for the youngster. We’ve known this kid’s name for years, but so has injury.
Another reason this match was similar to the IW final? Federer looked gassed and disgruntled (not gassed like Djokovic; gassed like I’m in my 37th year and I’m barely able to keep dominating like this). Again, in last week’s final and in today’s R32, Federer hit some brilliant shots, looked unplayable in little spots throughout the matches. But he never seemed to really have that world-class art exhibit open.
I’m afraid I saw the peak of this early season Federer in his IW SF. He did find a little too much trouble and difficulty in that match, but the clutch and genius crushed the Next Gen narrative; the sport remained in the past, for bit longer, a more classic affair and wouldn’t you know, Laver and Sampras were in attendance.
In 2017, Federer’s most dominant form was perhaps in Miami. His surge that began in Melbourne 2017 continued through to IW (he had the one loss in Dubai), but Miami saw his form reach a fever-pitch, the BH unplayable, his play at the net unfair and his FH sharper and flatter more often. For me, the Federer FH looks vulnerable when he starts to hit it almost too high, which means short, and rushed.
But, again, he’s had quite a run here this year. This chapter has ended. It wasn’t 2017, but he reached #1, he added #20 and he still made IW a genuine classic. Unfortunately, for Federer, he’ll lose #1 to the dormant Nadal when the rankings come-out next week. You’d think this would sting a bit. Federer, to me, looks over it.
Let’s hope Kokkinakis can continue with some of this big tennis. Did I say he was also pretty clutch like DelPo? Again, some of those holds were simply large.
The tournament is even more wide-open now. Stay-tuned.