When Federer was coming-off his spring (clay) break last year, you might recall I was pretty skeptical of his plan. Losing to Haas in 2017 Stuttgart meant he had Halle to get his shit together and that looks to have been what happened (if he even needed the warm-up). Winning #19 and #8 happened at WB and that was that.
Much of the concern I had for that seemingly insignificant measure (he didn’t apparently need the competition on clay NOR did he remain injury-free the rest of the way) was based around the difficulty he might have getting his engine back into competitive tennis gear. Would he be able to find that rhythm, the match fitness, etc.? You can see from the comments of that referenced 2017 post, much of the discussion is around the trickiness of the grass.
I have already said several times that this 2018 Wimbledon warm-up has to be seen as quite successful, regardless of the result in yesterday’s Halle final. He won Stuttgart for the first time, beat two very capable and imposing grass courters in Kyrgios and Raonic (I’ll even throw-in Mischa Zverev he beat earlier in the tournament), and secured his #1 ranking confidence to go along with the grass title.
The Gerry Weber Open was going to be tough from the outset (anti-climactic at least), but I thought the draw seemed even more advantageous for Federer, that he got through some of the big boys in Stuttgart, but a lot of that bigger ATP grass firepower was toeing-the-line in London at the Fever-Tree Championships. Might Federer get an easier path to another grass title, his tenth Halle?
To make a long story short (ha): no. He struggled a ton in Halle throughout against far more inferior talent; sure he came upon some grass artisans, but he was in hand-to-hand combat with these subordinates and the Federer frustration, both his and his coaches’, viral daily across video and print media, began to wear on everyone except his opponents. Federer looked beatable in Halle.
I said the Halle final was perfect because this would be a good gauge for Federer playing, finally, a very real talent that I already garnished back in March; I was calling the young Croat a mini-Djokovic before any of the “pros” I hear on the Tennis Channel, etc. I consume much “literature” (watch a lot of tennis) so let’s just say I was way-out in-front of this.
As I watched live the Indian Wells Coric v Federer SF, I donned the free headsets they hand-out with which one can listen to the “pros” (I forget if it was ESPN or Tennis Channel. I want to say I heard Annacone’s voice, but then again it might have been the Pat McEnroe crew). Either way, they suddenly “stumbled across” that description in their characterization of the match, of Coric as he was giving Federer fits.
Suddenly, Coric was Djokovic-like. They either read Mcshow Blog or they’re just late, as usual. Earlier in the tournament, Annacone I remember for sure referring to Chung as a mini-Djokovic.
Maybe you all are just pointing-out that the BL grind is alive and well on tour.
Coric beat Federer yesterday with a very Djokovic-like style-of-play and strategy: serve well, return with interest and pound the corners, make Federer work.
And the number 10 jumps-out NOT because Federer was vying for and missing-out on his tenth Halle. You know what I’m referring to.
Federer had the BP opps at 5-5 in the first and again had the first set on his racket at 6-4 in the TB.
That was the match right there. Sure we would not have flinched had Federer lost the TB and won the match 3 and 3 in the 2nd and 3rd sets. But the clutch was missing.
This was very reminiscent of Indian Wells, by the way. Federer should probably have lost to Coric in that SF. He lost the first and found himself down a break in both the 2nd and 3rd sets. He came-up with massive clutch and escape artistry to survive that match, that young but very real opponent. He found himself struggling again yesterday against Coric in a high-stakes match, but didn’t quite have that extra gear.
And having the first set on his serve at 6-4 in the TB, but failing to convert there looked like that IW final TB in the decider v Del Potro. Federer had that title in the palm of his hand, as well, but was denied.
So, Federer needs a nice week + recovery and a little remediation on some of his game, no? He even said after the match that the warm-up for him was a success and that they learned a lot, have a few things to address, etc.
Conclusion: I have already said (a billion times), he’s got his grass feet and the Suttgart title against those boys has to taste really nice for the Federer camp, moving-on to WB.
However, getting #10 at Halle would have been nice and we have to say that watching Federer look consistently “off” has to give fans a tiny frown and opponents (athletes and fans) a tiny smile.
As I said in my preview yesterday: he’s going on 37 and at some point that sea change is going to occur (our lighthouse vantage point saw some of this back in 2015-16). He looked tired and even a bit impotent all week in Halle.
I actually wondered about the different venues, the quality of the grass. In Stuttgart, if a ball from Kyrgios or Roanic (anyone) was short at all, Roger would punish, net-bound if his foe had the means to even get back the FH or topped BH. He seemed more in control, so much more offensive.
Which is why there can be some discount to the Halle loss and why there’s some concern for Federer in the Halle loss.
😀 TRANSITION TO TREE-FEVER CHAMPIONSHIPS 😀
What I would say that may make Wimbledon quite different from either of these warm-ups is not only the venue, the cathedral of tennis, but the Bo5 format. Federer tends to benefit from the higher stakes — specifically, majors (obvious data to back-up this claim): one) is the stakes, the drama of that kind of tennis; and two) the Bo5 format. Nadal is the same way (again, lots of supportive data).
If he’s indeed “tired” and won’t have the fitness to compete in these up-coming lengthier matches (of course more of them, as well), then father time is in the draw. But we have to consider this factor, that like Nadal, beating Federer in Bo5 on this surface should be a pretty tall task.
There is clearly some ambivalence as to Federer’s momentum and confidence going into the year’s third major. He’s been brilliant at times this year and less-than impressive at other times (early-mid 2017 is clearly the peak of this Federer-Ljubičić collaboration).
What I said last night in my short comment back to Clint is that Federer looked in Halle a bit like he looked in London last year in November at the WTF. He had no reason to lose that tournament. He was apparently “healthy.” He looked off.
Maybe the Bo5 format and his wedding-cake white Wimbledon outfit will be all the Maestro needs.
Djokovic v Cilic
The 14-1 H2H seemed compelling and is, but these competitions are more complicated than that.
Before we get to Djokovic, congratulations, Marin Cilic. I have been critical, but this guy is with out a doubt a legit top 3 player in the world. He has found the deep-end of the draws at majors consistently for the past year. He looks primed, might we say peaking, for SW19.
I literally used my thought on Djokovic in a Bo5 format as a way to see how this Queen’s Club final would turn-out. Djokovic has made a ton of progress this year. There is no question about this observation. Just go back to his AO and sunshine double tennis (especially IW and MI) to see that what he did in Rome and Paris on the clay, and how he got to this final yesterday are all convincing evidence that he’s on his way back.
But what’s worried me for his sake is some of that fitness, that steady I-am-going-nowhere composure that we became used to with peak Novak. He was the ultimate clinician in breaking-down his opponent that began and ended with an imposing focus and resiliency on serve and ROS, throughout rallies, in bigger points, etc.
That’s not there, that composure. He had Cilic right where he wanted him. His serve let him down. He got seemingly fatigued in the decider.
He’s coming-up short in these bigger matches. The Cecchinato match, for me, was a bad development. Sure, Novak got ambushed by an inspired dirt-baller at Roland Garros (his how the headline reads); but that was a bad look, a sign that he is not in form at all. He needs to get through that and get to the final four of a major with chances to beat Thiem and Nadal (yes, I think that might have been more interesting with a confident and surging Novak).
Yesterday is more of this kind of weak-kneed or half-hearted Novak. No doubt he could be dealing with some mechanical issues (with his serve, for instance), but as he gets into these more intense contests, he isn’t that 2015-early 2016 Djokovic who ruled the court (all of the courts!).
And the Bo5 in Wimbledon seems shaky ground, too, at this point. I said that if he beats Marin yesterday, look out. That would be the kind of move to really propel him, like getting to the RG SF and F, etc. He’s just not quite there.
And let’s be honest: Novak didn’t have to face much at all in his Queen’s Club draw. I already explained his “big win” v Dimitrov.
None the less, Novak’s run here is a good sign of continued form. He’s still coming.
The question I posed in the first half of this post regarding Federer is whether or not he’s still coming.
We will add to this in our build to WB.