Federer tumbles and Coric rolls on at the Rolex Shanghai Masters
When Roger wins Roger dazzles. But what happens when he loses? Those match-ups need not be close contests. However, what matters is how he loses those. At the Rolex Shanghai Masters on Saturday, Borna Coric was in full flow. In the second semifinal, he was up against Roger Federer, the defending champion who had advanced to the semifinal after a hard-fought win over Kei Nishikori, in the quarterfinal.
Sending full length flying returns, making Federer work for each and every point, breaking his rhythm and not allowing him to have any look in his service games, the Croatian was playing his best tennis. Coric's best tennis was hitting the balls flat and straight, right back at his opponent, and he did it consistently well. He was sure about his movement around the baseline, which meant his court position was just perfect, in order that he could dictate the flow of the rally strokes.
As a result, a 6-4, 6-4 scoreline, a straight-set victory for the 21-year-old. It is also hard to imagine that Federer did not manage to create even one break point opportunity in the entire first set. The scoreboard read 4-3, 30-30 on Coric's serve when Federer pushed him to his backhand corner hitting deep, and followed it up with an ever-hesitant net approach only to net a forehand smash. If Federer had any hopes of getting back into the contest, that was one, where he made the most of the smash but wasted the chance!
While Coric was playing with purpose and resolve, Federer played like a seasoned tactician stationed at the baseline carrying on with his on-court experiments. He was using his slice-backhand not to win points but perhaps hoping that Coric would falter at some point in long baseline exchanges. It seemed as though Federer's baseline tactics quickly unravelled as his unforced errors count kept swelling up. He made a little over 20 unforced errors. It was surprising to note that Federer, somehow, was resigned to staying back well behind the baseline for most of the encounter.
One commentator reckoned that having a solid serve was always a luxury playing against someone like Roger. In fact, the match stats proved that point. Coric lost nine points on his serve and 47% of his serves were unreturned ones.
The Tennis world knows that Nick Kyrgios is charged with emotions every time he takes the court. Contrastingly, Federer showed little sign of emotions in the semifinal, with a stoical acceptance of defeat. But this time, the inclination to win was also missing. Was he dogged by any minor injury? Maybe a stiff right elbow or an abdominal strain? Well, whatever it was, excuses can be used for self-gratification.
There was no reason why he could not play the way he usually does. Earlier on in the match when Coric was leading 3-1 in the first set, one commentator revealed that Federer had lost to only four other players outside the big four at the semifinal stages of an ATP Masters 1000 event before.
At Cincinnati, earlier this year, playing against Djokovic in the final, Federer was erroneous and clueless. But on this occasion, he was an obedient student of the game taking directions from Coric's brutal backhands and fearsome forehands. On Saturday, at the Shanghai Masters, Federer's game hit a new low. Never has Federer failed to create a 'Federer-ordinary' picture as opposed to his otherwise extraordinary flamboyance whenever he lost a 'must-lose' match! This contest may just well top one such list of losses.
Federer looked sluggish and headachy with no whiff of excitement on court. These kinds of matches will only add to his fans’ frustrations. Year on year, it is unfortunate that his fans have had to witness the Swiss ‘plodding through’ sets of forgettable tennis. May he play a few more tournaments!