Roger Federer weathers the 'Gael Storm' in Madrid, but faces another stern test next
Except for the 24-shot and 23-shot rallies in the first and the second sets respectively, Roger Federer's court movement in his third round match at the Mutua Madrid Open 2019 was not too convincing, with the only excuse being this was just his second match on clay in three long years. Miraculously enough though, he edged past Frenchman Gael Monfils.
The first set went Federer's way without much trouble. It looked as though it was all too easy, and the crowd wouldn't have a contest to witness. Federer served Monfils a bagel, and the resistance from Monfils was feeble at best.
That said, Federer played an exquisite brand of tennis, hitting the ball so cleanly that the surface seemed to have very little effect on his shot making. In stark contrast, Monfils was struggling to time the ball.
The first half of the second set was just fantastic. Much to the joy of the Madrid crowd, Monfils had a rollicking start, breaking Federer in the second game and winning three games in a row.
Suddenly, Federer looked clueless. Suddenly, the crowd had come alive.
But things got better for Federer as the set progressed. Monfils eventually squandered the advantage when he double faulted to give the break back to the Swiss. The set was on level terms at 3-4, back on serve.
In the ninth game, Monfils' serve was under the pump again. But the Frenchman's firm resilience meant he held, which was followed by a bad service game from the Swiss. That was enough for Monfils to snatch the second set away 6-4.
The decider was even more intriguing. The first half of the third set was a bit of a repeat of what happened in the second. Monfils broke Federer early before hitting a backhand down the line wide to give Federer a break back opportunity.
Federer couldn't convert that chance, but champions are made of sterner stuff. Despite the fact that the stadium-stand shadows were a disturbance to Federer who looked visibly upset, he waited patiently for his chances.
In the seventh game, Federer was a bit more aggressive from the baseline, using his forehand to full effect. He punched the ball back at Monfils at a considerable pace, forcing Monfils to defend.
At 2-4, 30-30, Monfils netted a backhand to give Federer a break point. 29 minutes into the third set Federer converted with a backhand chip return, just when Monfils was looking for a net approach shot.
Later on, at 5-5, 30-30, a brilliant service return gave Federer another break point, which he couldn't convert.
The crowd were on their feet as every time Monfils held his serve Federer had to respond to the scoreboard pressure. Many thought that the Swiss maestro's much anticipated claycourt return was coming to an end when, at 5-6, Federer did not do enough with a forehand volley giving Monfils a match point.
He saved that, but again at 40-40, he netted a backhand to give Monfils his second match point. He got himself out of that tricky situation too with some smart play.
In the tiebreaker that ensued, Federer rose to an unassailable 5-1 lead as his defensive skills were on full display. Monfils made him work hard, and while he had the upper hand in the long rallies, Federer had the final say, winning the 3rd round encounter 6-0, 4-6, 7-6(3) in two hours.
This is the 10th time Federer is through to the quarterfinals at the Mutua Madrid Open. Up next is Dominic Thiem, who would be a different proposition altogether on clay. Federer will have to be at his clay-court best if he were to down the Austrian.
Welcome back to clay, Roger Federer. Tough hairpin bends ahead!