As the rain washed out an entire day of play on Wednesday in the ongoing Italian Open, each winning player was scheduled to play both his 2nd and 3rd round matches on Thursday. And after defeating Joao Sousa in straight sets, Roger Federer faced the resilient Croatian Borna Coric for a place in the quarter-finals.
First things first, the crowd made it quite clear who they were rooting for. Federer was the favorite right from the word go, and every good shot he hit was met with resounding cheers.
But the grit and determination shown by Coric were worth applauding. He certainly gave Federer a run for his money, especially with his backhand, and remained in the hunt till the very end.
If there's one aspect of Federer's game that has been dominant right from the start of his career, it has to be his serve. But lately that serve has taken a hit as he has failed to land enough first serves in recent matches.
Even in today's match, Federer could get just 57% of his first serves in. Coric was a bit better in this regard with 60% of his first serves landing in.
Also, Coric read the first serve of Federer quite well as he returned most of them deep into the baseline, thereby stealing some points from one of the greatest servers of all time. Federer won 63% of points on his first serve and Coric won a mammoth 79% of points on his first serve.
In the points won on the second serve, it was Federer who had a narrow edge. He won 60% of his second serve points won whereas Coric managed to win 57%.
This stat was crucial towards the end as Coric failed to make first serves in the pressure moments and Federer took advantage on Coric's second serve, winning crucial points when necessary.
Coric was very good in short rallies as he won 73 of them, compared with just 63 for Federer. This difference was even larger in the first set as Federer said in the post-match interview that he was unable to see the ball properly early on because of the shade on the court.
When rallies between the two players extended for more than 9 shots, it was Federer who topped Coric as he won nine of them compared with just four for the Croat. This was largely because of the backhand slice that Federer employed to slow down the pace and keep Coric off-balance.
The drop shot was also quite successful in the crunch moments of this match for Federer.
The Swiss hit 33 winners with 17 winners on the forehand side, six on the backhand and 10 on the serve. Coric on the other hand managed to hit 29 winners with 11 on the forehand side, 13 on the backhand and five on serve.
Clearly, the backhand didn't work too well for Federer in the match. That should be attributed to the tremendous backhand of Coric and the depth he managed to create with his crosscourt drives.
As expected, Federer's unforced error count was high, at 42. Coric on his part made 35 errors, but many of them came at the worst possible moments for him.
Federer won 14 of 22 points he played at the net, and Coric won 8 out of 14. This was quite different from Federer's matches in Madrid, where he approached the net more frequently.
Finally, the total number of points won by Coric was 107 and for Federer it was 95; there is a big difference of 12 points between the two.
If we take a look at all these numbers, it can be seen that Coric dominated most of the departments, but faltered in the crunch moments.
Watch the dramatic turnaround in the third set tie-breaker here:
So how did Federer manage to win this match?
The answer is pretty simple.- he was a better clutch player. Federer faced eight break points in the match and managed to save as many as five of them. By contrast, Coric could only save two of the four break points he faced.
Federer saved two match points before coming out victorious 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(6) in 2 hours and minutes. It was display of sheer determination from the Swiss maestro that helped him turn the match in his favor after a disastrous first set.
Federer looked a little exhausted and empty during the final stages of the third set; it felt as though there was nothing left in the tank. But the crowd did play a huge role as they kept cheering for their favorite player, helping him get reinvigorated.
It remains to be seen how Federer feels when he returns to the court tomorrow for his quarterfinal match against Stefanos Tsitsipas. If he is fit though, that match promises to be another cracker.