Watching Roger Federer cruise against Tommy Haas, it’s difficult to reconcile tonight’s match with their recent record. This was the first time in four meetings that Haas didn’t win at least a set. In today’s fourth-rounder, Haas looked less like a legitimate upset threat and more like a Washington General feeding balls to Fed’s Harlem Globetrotter.
While the German did manage to break serve once midway through the first set, any advantage was quickly erased. Fed cruised through the last set and a half, ultimately winning the match 6-4 6-4 in an hour and 24 minutes.
It wasn’t a pristine performance from Federer, but it was more than good enough. For all the flash of Haas’s one-handed backhand, Tommy rarely made his opponent uncomfortable, relying on Roger to make mistakes. There weren’t enough of those for Haas to triumph: Federer balanced his 20 unforced errors (only three of them backhands!) with 26 winners.
One factor keeping Fed’s backhand mistakes to a minimum was his ability to avoid hitting the one-hander altogether. Forehands made up all but 30% of Federer’s groundstrokes, a number that often results in a Fed victory. By contrast, in this year’s Australian Open semifinal, Rafael Nadal forced him to hit 43% of his groundstrokes from the backhand side.
If there is any reason for concern stemming from Roger’s performance today, it’s another mediocre showing on break points. Haas saved 8 of 11 break chances, including three in a row from a 0-40 hole at 3-3 in the first set. As it turned out, Fed was able to secure that game on a fourth break chance, but had that opportunity not arisen, the first set might have looked much tighter. And maybe it’s just a blip: As I wrote in January, Fed’s break point conversion rate is in line with those of other top players.
Having easily cleared the hurdle posed by Haas, Federer faces no serious threats until the final. He and Novak Djokovic are the only top-ten players remaining in the draw, and thanks to the earlier defeats of Nadal, Andy Murray, and Stanislas Wawrinka, my numbers give Fed better than a 50/50 shot of making the final. Certainly he will be favored over Kevin Anderson tomorrow and either Milos Raonic or Alexandr Dolgopolov in the semifinal.
If Roger and Novak proceed to the final as predicted, Federer will have more than just his recent defeat of Djokovic in his favor. In thirteen previous trips to Indian Wells, he has lost nine times, but never in the final.