Federer falling from grace
From Monday’s Globe and Mail
March 23, 2008 at 10:10 PM EDT
They are a category of fan known as the Kool-Aid Drinkers, diehards who admire and love everything about Roger Federer.
The KADS are very restless after their man’s 6-3, 6-2 loss to Mardy Fish in the semi-finals of the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Calif., on Saturday.
Federer was remarkably passive and showed virtually no appetite for a fight in going down — the first time in 42 matches, dating to a 2003 loss to Andy Roddick in Montreal, he had been beaten by an American.
On RogerFederer.com yesterday, the Federer faithful were fearful about their man’s fallibility.
“Something must be wrong off the tennis court,” was a post from one fan.
“Are you having fun playing any more? It does not seem your heart is there.”
“Something is really fishy about this loss to Fish … and why didn’t Mirka [Vavrinec, his girlfriend] turn up?”
“How many times do you have to lose to finally get a coach?”
“Roger is in trouble. He can’t beat Fish, how can be beat Novak [Djokovic]?”
Fish, who was beaten 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 by Djokovic in the final yesterday, had a career week, including wins over seeded players Igor Andreev (31), Nikolay Davydenko (4), Lleyton Hewitt (24), David Nalbandian (7) and Federer (1).
Ranked No. 98, he has long been hampered by injuries, including a problem that required two wrist operations in 2005.
“Let’s not talk about No. 98,” Federer said on Saturday, “we know he’s way better than that.” Continuing, he added, “the guy was on top of his game … took his chances and it was over in a heartbeat.”
The match lasted just more than an hour.
“I couldn’t do much today,” Federer conceded. “These matches sometimes come around. I’m surprised myself it hasn’t happened more in the last five years.”
Given the result, and his defeatist demeanour, speculation will be rife about what is behind such a spectacularly uninspired performance.
It must begin with the mononucleosis that started to affect him in late December and has resulted in two subsequent relapses.
He won his first three matches in Indian Wells with relative ease — Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (6-1, 6-4), Nicolas Mahut (6-1, 6-1) and Ivan Ljubicic (6-3, 6-4) — and seemed to have regained his form after an Australian Open semi-final loss to Djokovic and a first-round defeat by Andy Murray this month in Dubai. But the temperature was more than 30 on Saturday. Was that a factor if he was not feeling well?
Another factor could have been Tommy Haas’s withdrawal (sinus infection) from their Friday quarter-final. That meant Federer played after two days off.
“I was a little deflated yesterday,” he admitted on Saturday. “I think it would have given me great rhythm if I were to win against him [Haas] … and come into the semi-final today.”
A third, and non-tennis related consideration, is the rumour published last week that his girlfriend, Vavrenic, is pregnant. Federer, in a non-English interview, said he did not find it necessary to comment on such stories.
It may be useful to recall that one of his worst losses in 2007 was at the Italian Open, when he was beaten, in a listless effort, 6-2, 6-4 by Flippo Volandri of the host country. A day later, it was announced he had fired coach Tony Roche, a difficult thing for him to do, considering his respect for Australians of that older generation, including Roche and Rod Laver.
For the record, Federer did have Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Luthi with him in Indian Wells more or less acting as coach.
With world No. 2 Rafael Nadal losing by an identical 6-3, 6-2 score to No. 3 Djokovic in Saturday’s other semi-final, the top two spots in the ATP rankings don’t look as secure as they have for almost three years.
“I hope I can go from here and win Miami and [subsequently] on to the clay,” Federer said.
The Sony Ericsson Open in Miami will begin on Wednesday, with Federer’s first match already scheduled for Saturday.
Alarmists are suggesting that with the European clay-court season looming, if he does not win in Miami, he might not win a tournament until the grass in June-July at Wimbledon.