So … that came out of nowhere, right? I mean, Federer not only had beaten Robredo all 10 times they’ve played each other before tonight, but Robredo had only managed to take three sets COMBINED in those 10 encounters.
Apart from the joint history, this is just a terrible match-up for Robredo, who doesn’t do a single thing at a higher level than Roger Federer. The H2H makes perfect sense, really.
And yet, today Tommy Robredo dismissed Federer in straight sets. And let’s remember that Tommy actually served for the first set at 5-4 and got broken. The scoreline could’ve looked even more straightforward than 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-4.
People on Twitter started to compare this match with Federer’s loss to Stakhovsky at Wimbledon, and it’s an interesting exercise. I thought at Wimbledon Stakhovsky played the best match of his life. The Ukrainian was simply impeccable, except for some slight hiccups when serving for the first set (and eventually losing it). I thought Federer was outplayed on Centre Court, particularly in the big points, which ended up going Stakhovsky’s way via some determined, fearless tennis.
Today was an entirely different situation. Roger Federer was mostly mediocre, and for stretches, all Tommy Robredo had to do was keep the ball in play long enough for Federer to donate one of his 43 unforced errors (almost good for 11 games all on their own). And when the five-time US Open champ wasn’t sending forehands long or shanking backhands, he was coming to net on pretty poor approaches … and getting summarily passed.
This last bit of puzzling tactics cost Federer the opening set, as he chose to come to net way too soon, and behind way too suicidal of approach shots. He got passed twice, and Tommy Robredo got an immediate shot of confidence.
What I didn’t understand from all this net rushing (Federer came to net 52 times, and lost 20 of those points) is that it showed a bit of panic on his side. It’s as if he forgot how he’s dominated Tommy Robredo during their careers: from the baseline. Federer has routinely out-hit Robredo in forehand-to-forehand exchanges, and even his own backhand has gotten the better of the one-hander duels.
Of course, the stat that’s been most frequently bandied about regarding this match is the absurd amount of break points (14) that Federer failed to convert. After going 2 for 4 in break chances in the first set, Roger wasted six chances in the second set, and six in the third. What stood out to me is how poor his returning was during most of those break points. Federer seemed hell-bent on hitting drive backhand returns, which is always a mixed bag for him. Yes, many (me included) have asked why he hasn’t tried to do this more in the past, so I shouldn’t criticize him for it. However, when you’re in Federer’s position and you’re going down in flames to somebody you thoroughly PWNED in the past, why not use the approach (sliced backhand returns) that worked so well in previous matches? Why not adjust midway, as things weren’t getting any better?
Who knows. At least for Federer there’s an important silver linings: he didn’t look injured, so he’s healthy enough to look for some ranking points in the Asian and indoor swings so that he can clinch his spot in his beloved World Tour Finals.
As for Tommy Robredo, he was as composed as he had to be and stuck fiercely to his simple but effective gameplan: always send second serves to Federer’s backhand, stand way behind the baseline on second serve returns so he could get deep, topspin heavy balls to Federer’s backhand to start a rally, and look to attack Federer’s forehand once space was created via some good cross-court backhands. Tommy served extremely well (he actually ended up hitting the fastest serve of the match), and he hit some inspired passing shots at key times. Many kudos are in order for the man who seems hell-bent on returning to the top 15, or even the top 10.
Okay, so, this is really reality now, huh? I mean, I know that Federer has been in decline for a while–and rightly so, because he is an actual human being who has played and won an ungodly amount of tennis matches in his lifetime–but it’s still shocking to see him lose in straight sets to a guy who he’s been so firmly dominant over in the past as Tommy Robredo.
Even though I’ve been writing about it since the second it happened, I’m still trying to process it all.
Simply put, I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that Federer just played an abysmal match. He just looked lost on court all evening? I mean, I know that Armstrong isn’t Ashe, but it was far from just that–he looked like he was playing a different sport than he usually plays.
It was as if he had an extra weight around his ankles and wrist interfering with his usual play. Instead of hitting the ball into the open court away from his opponent, he continuously and inexplicably kept hitting the ball right back to Robredo–that is, when he got the ball over the net and inside the proper lines on the tennis court at all.
I mean, he was just in his own way, which is something we don’t see from Federer.
He said in press that his consistency isn’t there, and that’s quite an understatement. Any time this year that a player has played well–or even just OK–against him, he’s been unable to find his way out.
For so much of Fed’s career he was just leaps and bounds better than every single player he played. He didn’t have to make adjustments mid-match. He didn’t have to figure out how to “win ugly.” He didn’t have to figure out how to get out of his own way–he was never in his own way!
(Note that I’m not saying that Fed doesn’t work hard–his off-court practice habits and training are unparalleled and underrated. I’m simply talking about the majority of his matches.)
It’s going to be interesting to see if Federer can figure out how to pull out matches like today late in his career. If he can’t, then the decline is only going to get steeper, and it’s just going to be even harder to watch.
But seriously–kudos to Tommy Robredo. He played a solid match today, he kept his cool, and this win is a testament to hard work and perseverance. Eleventh time’s the charm!