Today in Cincinnati, the men and women played matches to determine the quarterfinals lineup. Top men Juan Martin del Potro, Tomas Berdych, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic all advanced in straightforward fashion, while Dmitry Tursunov upset David Ferrer in straights.
And then there was Roger Federer.
While Federer has a lopsided advantage in his head-to-head against Tommy Haas (10-3 going into today, excluding a walkover), their recent matches have been tough, and Haas has been playing well enough that one would expect Federer in his current form to struggle. It almost felt like Federer was the underdog, which is an odd turn of events.
The word “flat” doesn’t even begin to describe Federer in the first set, which Haas took, 6-1. Federer had some chances on the Haas serve, but he botched most of them with terrible errors. He broke himself twice, shanking forehands and backhands into the clear sky.
But more so, Federer just looked miserable about the way he was playing. I thought back to seeing him play James Blake here in 2011, watching him revel in crushing his opponent, and laughing at the silly Kiss Cam on the big screen during changeovers. He was lighthearted. He hadn’t won a Grand Slam in over a year, but he was confident in his game.
So this afternoon, I was struck by how Federer felt like the opposite of that 2011 version of Federer. There was no real enjoyment. Instead, this version of Federer brought a scrappiness we’re not used to seeing from the 17-time Grand Slam champion. This was not pretty tennis; this was survival.
The crowd on Center Court was dead silent as Haas immediately broke Federer in the second set. He led 4-2. But a game later, Haas had a very Tommy Haas service game to allow Federer to level the set at 4-all. From there, Federer somehow fought his way to 7-5, forcing a decider. Though the tennis was of poor quality, the crowd came to their feet, sensing hope for the Swiss.
(Throughout all of this, Mirka was sitting in the players’ box, looking stressed out, and trying to encourage Roger by clapping on almost every point when he was down a break.)
As for Haas, he let a golden opportunity slip away with some silly errors. Federer played a passable third set, and Haas came undone at 3-4. If I am making the match sound like it was only about Federer, it’s because Federer was fighting himself more than he fought Haas, who did everything in his power not to win the match.
It wasn’t a good match, but it felt meaningful for Federer, who desperately needed a win.
“I’m just happy,” he said afterward. “You know, those are the matches I knew just kind of what I need right now. Every minute more in a match court is a good thing right now. Let’s be honest, it gives me a lot of opportunity in the next match to do better. Gives me more information going to New York as well. Or staying in the tournament and then hopefully giving myself a shot at the trophy again.”
I snapped this picture, which is quite possibly the least flattering picture of Wozniacki ever taken:
Kvitova took the first set with some clean hitting.
Her rumored significant other, Radek Stepanek, watched from the stands:
Wozniacki raised her level in the final two sets. Her defense is something to behold in person. She scrambles so fast against a big hitter like Kvitova.
I feel like this picture is classic Wozniacki (arguing with the chair umpire over a call):
She’ll face Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals.
Grigor Dimitrov played Rafael Nadal tough on Center Court, but the Spaniard was able to prevail in three sets. Baby Federer may have given us a more competitive match than we’ll see from Real Federer tomorrow night against Nadal.
Quotes of the day:
Q: “Roger, was there ever a time you thought that maybe you were out of the match? You haven’t been in this situation that often.”
Roger Federer: “Right. For that reason, I was thinking that as well, that I was probably going to be out of the match. It’s not at 6-1, 3-1 when I clapped my hands and said, ‘Okay, here we go.’ I kind of told myself, All right. Who knows? But I wasn’t like euphoric about it, let’s be honest.”
Q: “Roger, you struggled with your back last year when you won Wimbledon. Does that give you extra confidence now, as you’re dealing with some of the same problems, that you were able to achieve a lot of success even despite that? It’s been something you’ve been dealing with.”
Federer: “Yeah, I mean, look, I’ve always played very well being hurt, actually, and sometimes that has caused problems for me that I should have retired many matches throughout my career but I didn’t. And some of those, I guess, I took chances. Some other times it really wasn’t worth it to put myself in that position in some moments I’ve been again this year.”
“But I believe when I can walk and I can hit decent, you know, you never know. So I give myself the opportunity. Sometimes miracles happen, like last year at Wimbledon. You get a bit lucky or you heal well, get the extra day off, and all that stuff.”
“So, yeah, you never know. I mean, I definitely have to also understand that sometimes it’s better not to play. But very often also I’ve sort of been able to take advantage of toughing it out and then eventually coming through and actually feeling great at the end of the tournament, like Wimbledon last year.”
Q: “What do you think that you think you’re lacking most in your tennis? Is it match play? Is it confidence? Is it fitness?”
Federer: “Little bit of everything. Yeah, I mean, I fell behind a little bit with the injuries I’ve had. Where I wanted to actually do a lot of exercises and training and all that stuff. I couldn’t really do that. I had to do more waiting and rehabbing.”
“I think that just adds up over time and has maybe a little dent in your confidence at times. And then I was playing hurt as well, which was not very smart at times. I got used to doing the wrong things because I’m protecting myself.”
“Then when you’re fine again you’re still playing like you’re protecting something but actually you don’t have to anymore. So it’s difficult sometimes to let go. I think that’s what I was kind of going through, and that’s why I’m happy I’m pain-free right now and just to make up my mind how I really want to play right now. So every match is helpful in this instance.”
Rafael Nadal, on comparing Grigor Dimitrov to Federer: “The style is very similar. Yeah, the game is similar, but for the moment, what we can compare is the style [rather] than the level of tennis.”