Federer’s Dubai Run Reviewed: Mastering Tennis’ Past, Present and Future

Federer

Photo courtesy of www.straitstimes.com

Roger Federer defeated tennis’ past, present and future on his way to his seventh ATP 500 Dubai title. The Tennis Review looks back at how the Swiss’ timeless game mastered three generations of tennis.

First and second rounds: d. Youzhny 6-3 6-1, Verdasco 6-4, 6-3. 

Federer and Mikhail Youzhny go all the way back to Stockholm 2000 when the then 19 year old Swiss got his first of fifteen wins over the then 18 year old Youzhny. That day Federer came from a set down to win, one of only four sets Federer has dropped in a head to head that was 15-0 in his favor before their first round clash in Dubai.

Youzhny, aged 32, suffered his 12 straight sets loss to the 33 year old world No.2, and one of the most crushing, winning only four games.

In the second round, Federer beat 30 year old Verdasco for the sixth time since 2005. Verdasco did push him in Dubai, leading 4-1 in the first set, but Federer won 20 points in a row to take control of the match.

On his way to Dubai title No. 7, Federer’s game, which has changed now and then over the years, was, for the 21st time in fifteen years, too good for the two players he met of his generation. The Swiss’ superiority came down to two fundamental strengths that have always been at the core of his game- the variety of his serve and his all-court skills.

Those assets, and the Swiss’ fairly recent commitment to a predominantly attacking game, have helped the Swiss stay at the top of the ATP tour while other players of his generation have declined.

Back in 2009, the last year in which Federer won multiple slams, Verdasco reached his first slam semi-final at the Australian Open and Youzhny finished the season a top 20 player. Six years later, Verdasco is ranked 30, Youzhny 64, and while Federer may have dropped his level to that of world No. 2 and lacks the status of reigning slam champion,  the Swiss is still in the mix and still at the top of his generation.

Present and Past: d Gasquet 6-1, ret.

When Gasquet beat Federer in the first round of Monte Carlo 2005 in a third set tie-breaker, the future looked bright for the then nicknamed ‘Baby Fed’ who was  part of the Djokovic-Nadal-Murray generation, and predicted by pundits to become an integral part of that slam contending mix and challenge Federer.

The Federer comparisons soon vanished though as Gasquet never reached a slam final let alone won a trophy, and the Frenchman managed only one more win against Federer in 15 matches, once again on Clay, at the 2011 Italian Open, and once more in a final set breaker.

Currently ranked 25, Gasquet, aged 28, was not even able to complete his quarter-final match against Federer, retiring with injury after losing the first set 6-1.

Future: D. Borna Coric 6-1, 6-2

Coric’s defensive skills and double handed backhand, his favorite shot, and their resemblance to the game of the world No.1 Djokovic are a testament to the Serbian’s legacy.

Both skill and shot have been honed to give Coric the best possible shot of succeeding in the modern game, a game that features very little of the all-court skills Federer displays, and barely any of the Swiss’ all out attack. And just as Djokovic has found the Federer attacking game overwhelming at its best, so did Coric, going down to the Swiss in just short of an hour.

The Present: d. Djokivic 6-3, 7-5.

Federer was 19-17 against Djokovic before the final. This rivalry, first played at Monter-Carlo 2006, has turned out to be one of the ATP’s most prolific in history, and at times, due to the contrasting styles and the see-saw nature of the matches, the most entertaining.

In 2014, Federer beat Djokovic three times (Dubai, Monte-Carlo, and Shanghai), each time in the semi-finals, and in his two losses, both in finals at Indian Wells and Wimbledon, Federer won the first set and went on to lose in the decider.

In those finals, Federer simply ran out of gas against the game’s best mix of defense and offense in one of his best ever streaks on the tour (Djokovic won three ATP 1000 events and a slam from six events played between Indian Wells and Wimbledon in 2014).

But if anyone is going to stop a Djokovic streak, it is Federer, who put an end to the Serbian’s 43 match winning streak at Roland Garros 2011.

Some of those wins have been nothing less than old-fashioned thrashings (Cincinnati 2012, Shanghai 2014), as Federer’s fast court skills have proved too much for Djokovic to handle, even at his peak, and Federer had to be as dominant if he was going to beat Djokovic in Dubai, avoiding the stamina sapping marathons Djokovic thrives on.

The Serb simply has no answer to Federer when he can sustain a high level attacking game for an entire match on a faster court, and that scenario played out in Dubai. Federer struck 11 aces, including the 9000th of his career, saved seven break points, won 80 percent of his first serves, and approached the net 21 times, winning 9 of those points, many when it really mattered, such as when Federer was set point down in the second set and kept his second set chances alive with a sublime volley that died right on the baseline.

In a rivalry that has seen Djokovic have the recent upper-hand in finals, Federer turned that storyline around, and placed himself in a position to carry that momentum into a possible, and more important meeting, at the upcoming ATP 1000 Indian Wells tournament.

Federer’s future.

Federer’s past is legendary, his present is impressive, but what about his future?

The Dubai win shows Federer has what it takes to defeat all-comers, including the best player in the world, at an ATP 500 week long best-of-three event, no more, no less. Federer’s fans, and the man himself, want more than ATP 500 titles, though. They want much more. They want Slams, and Dubai tells us little about Federer’s chances of winning Slam No. 18 anytime soon.

The question whether Federer’s game can stand up against the very best in the fortnight long best-of-five slam format has been answered with a no since Federer’s return to form and his commitment to a more aggressive-minded game in 2014. Five times Federer has competed in slams since then, and he has made only one final.

If Dubai showed us anything it was that Federer’s return to form and commitment is still very much present, and that as long as the Swiss can bring both to the court against the past, present and future of tennis, then, between this season’s French and U.S Opens, he has as much chance as anyone to to win a slam, and add to a legendary tally that will not be beaten for some time.

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