After a disappointing opening match against the in-form Dominic Thiem, Roger Federer's chances of qualifying for the semifinals of the ATP Finals 2019 have taken a dent. He will need to be at his very best against Italian Matteo Berrettini if he wants to keep his chances alive.
This is the second consecutive year Federer has lost his opening match at the Finals, having also succumbed to Kei Nishikori in his first match last year. Federer displayed some sloppy form against Thiem on Sunday, and the Austrian took complete advantage to turn the match in his favor.
Federer looked unsettled right from the start of the match as he lost the first game on his serve, in the face of some good returns from Thiem. The Austrian had his share of errors throughout the match but he was absolutely clutch on the big points, repeatedly coming up with big groundstrokes to push Federer back.
Federer got broken in the 11th game of each set as both his serve and forehand lost their shape at the worst possible time. He was not able to handle the long rallies as Thiem kept placing his shots right on the baseline, which didn't give Federer enough time to create angles and play his usual aggressive game.
In a way, this match was similar to the contest they had earlier this year in the final of the Indian Wells Masters. Thiem was successful in putting constant pressure on Federer, who eventually started making too many forehand errors. Thiem's big-point proficiency also played a big role, and he has now defeated Federer three times in 2019 - thereby extending his head-to-head lead to 5-2.
Federer's movement wasn't quite up to the mark in Sunday's match, but that is likely to get better when he takes the court for his second match against Matteo Berrettini today. If he can get used to the conditions and improve his forehand, Federer is expected to stamp his authority on the young Italian - especially given Berrettini put in a forgettable performance against Novak Djokovic earlier.
That said, Berrettini's fiery forehand is something that Federer should be wary of. While the Swiss will have the mental edge in the match-up, having defeated Berrettini at Wimbledon this year, the young Italian has nothing to lose. If he plays the match with an unencumbered mindset, the firepower he generates could pose some problems for the six-time champion.
It's easy to say that Federer was not at his best in the first match, but a lot of credit must be given to Thiem for the way he handled the pressure moments and also the crowd, who were mostly pro-Federer. Moreover, the Austrian changed his return position and moved a couple of feet closer to the baseline in order to get on top in the rallies. That's something Berrettini could learn from.
Federer absolutely needs to defeat Berrettini in order to be in good position for the much-awaited clash with Djokovic. But he needs to avoid any lapses in concentration, like the ones he suffered against Thiem.
Opportunity awaits Berrettini; if he is fearless in his approach, he can make life very difficult for the Swiss maestro. A lot will depend on how intimidated the Italian feels while playing Federer in front of a partisan crowd; that will be a major factor in determining the winner of the match.
Match Prediction: Roger Federer to win in three sets.Published 12 Nov 2019, 15:39 IST