The Fed-enaissance continues
Federer had to bring out all his experience to douse the Del Potro challenge in the Basel final.
When Roger Federer ruthlessly dispatched World No. 10 David Goffin in the Basel semis, very few people would have thought that such a grueling finale waited for us on Sunday. Federer ambushed Goffin with 20 winners, including 12 on his forehand, in those authoritative 60 minutes. He was literally playing on the lines, barely on the court.
But things took a dramatic turn on Sunday against Juan Martin del Potro. Federer managed to break the intimidating serve of the Argentine in the very first game, but he got broken back immediately to make it even at 1-1. That was the start of an up-and-down match from both players, with the outcome never looking certain.
Federer clearly struggled on his serve from the very beginning, getting just 43% of first serves into play in set 1. He missed out on the free points usually accrued from his booming delivery. But he showed several signs of brilliance in his return game, putting relentless pressure on Del Potro's serve and finally breaking him to go 5-4 up.
Del Potro refused to give up though, and broke back again to level the set at 5-5 - the final point coming with an unforced error from Federer. A couple of holds later, the set went to a tie-break, with the momentum in the Argentine's favour.
Federer somehow managed to go 3-0 up in the breaker despite not getting a single first serve in, but that would prove to be costly again. Del Potro recovered the mini-break and got one of his own, he eventually sealed the set with a big wide serve.
The twists and turns from first set continued into the second. But more drama unfolded in the fourth game when Roger hit a routine backhand volley wide at a crucial break point. The crowd went 'Awwww' in unison and Federer almost smashed his racquet; if it hadn't been for the net, he would have.
Sometimes the home crowd advantage can turn out to be a curse for the greatest of athletes, putting them under added pressure. The usually calm and composed Federer started to lose his nerve, and he served three double faults in his next service game. But thanks to some impeccable forehand winners, he managed to hold on to his serve.
That service game brought out the human side of the otherwise flawless Swiss master. It's not every day that the fans get to see the temperamental Federer smashing balls into the stands in exasperation.
Holding at 2-2 was critical in this must-win set, and Federer seemed to regroup quickly post that game. He soon came back to his usual best, producing some copybook tennis to seal the set by breaking his opponent at 5-4.
The fans breathed a sigh of relief, hoping to see the home boy carry on the momentum from the second set. But at 15-0 up in the first game of the third set, Federer again double faulted and the crowd went berserk.
The stadium reverberated with echos of 'Let's go Roger, let's go!' but that only seemed to push the determined Del Potro to step up on the gas pedal. He broke Federer to go 1-0 up, and the match seemed destined to go his way.
However, Federer broke back in the very next game to bring things back on level terms. The decider seemed like a replay of the first set, with both players struggling to hold onto their serves initially.
The fluctuating battle finally drifted in Federer's favour as he again broke his opponent to go 3-1 up. It was one-way traffic from there onward as Federer refrained from committing any more of those uncharacteristic errors. A long forehand from the Argentinian finally sealed the match and championship for Federer at 6-7 6-4 6-3.
The grinding duel between the two stalwarts produced one of the best ATP 500 finals of the year. For Federer at this stage, his body might not be able to keep up with his seemingly teenage mind, but he’s certainly not showing any signs of slowing down. At 37, he just showed how he can pull off a win even on a bad day.
Federer seemed to be battling two opponents today, and one of them was clearly his own psyche.The joy, annoyance, anger, exuberance in his demeanour just exhibit how difficult it is to produce those routine volleys and smashes consistently.
Federer is trailing Rafael Nadal by 1400-odd points in the ATP rankings, and the top spot seems out of reach now. However, having pulled out of the Paris Masters, the Swiss is scheduling his events very smartly to keep his game and body in balance.