The generally immaculate Roger Federer has looked rather disheveled this week in Montreal.
His game, too, has been somewhat disheveled.
But there he is in the final of the Rogers Cup on Sunday.
He’ll meet No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev, and will try to win the tournament for the first time since 2006 – and the first time ever in Montreal.
His 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over a surprise semifinalist, his friend and frequent practice partner, Robin Haase, Saturday was relatively stress-free compared to his victories against Spaniards David Ferrer and Roberto Bautista Agut in previous rounds.
Which is not to say it was easy.
Adjusting to the speed
Federer’s ongoing surprise at the speed of the courts may have something to do with his institutional memory of Uniprix Stadium. The stadium court in Montreal has long been considered slower then the courts in Cincinnati next week or at the US Open later this month.
He has attributed that to the fact that it is his first tournament on the hard courts. But that’s been true the other years he has played in Canada first, or in Cincinnati (where he has had far more success).
But the speed, plus the fact that the balls fly even more during the day sessions he has generally been scheduled for, have motivated him to be ultra-aggressive from the very start of the event.
It’s been successful for him. But it hasn’t been easy. But against Haase, he served much better than he had earlier in the week.
“It’s been a bit up and down this tournament, the serve. I’ve been serving okay in patches. But that’s not what I like doing. I like to be consistent, then serve clutch when need be. It’s not been really going this way,” he said. “I really hoped before this match that I was going to be better, serve better on the first serve, more accurate, to the lines. Then especially second serve, have a higher, you know, winning percentage on second serves. I excelled today. So that’s great. It’s good confidence going into tomorrow.”
Federer lost just 5-of-30 points on his first serve against Haase. And he lost just 5-of-24 points on his second serve. He faced just two break points. The first-serve rate of 56 per cent wasn’t quite where it should be. As well as Zverev returns, he’ll have to pick that up.
Unshaven, disheveled finalist
The newly 36-year-old has come off the court looking far more the worse for wear – far from his usual dry, well-coiffed, composed self in the on-court interviews post-match.
The whiskers might easily be explained by the fact that his family isn’t with him this week; they’ll join him in Cincinnati.
It’s like a boys’-only bachelor trip to the cottage – except in a five-star hotel. He doesn’t have to worry about his kids going “Papa, your face hurts!” when he kisses them good night.
Federer hasn’t been playing great tennis. But he’s still winning.
“Look, I’m happy. You don’t always have to play your very best to come through. Of course, I’m very happy that I’ve made it here. It was a good decision for me. If I would have known I would have gone to the finals, I would have said ‘yes’ right away. Sometimes you’ve just got to wait and see how you feel,” he said. “I’m happy, most happy that I’m actually really healthy going into the finals. I haven’t wasted too much energy. I’ve been able to keep points short. I’ve been really clean at net. I think my concentration and just my playing has gone up a notch. I’m just playing better. So I’m very excited for the finals tomorrow.”
Federer hasn’t forgotten how to lose – he’s a long way from invincible. But in his appearances in Masters 1000 and Grand Slam tournaments this year, he has been unbeatable. His record in those stands at a gaudy 30-0.
Milestones and top spots
A victory on Sunday, in addition to being his first title in Montreal, would be the 94th of his career. That would tie him with Ivan Lendl for second place in the modern era, behind only the 109 titles of Jimmy Connors.
“I have reached levels that I never thought I would be able to reach, winning so many titles. Each title you can add is like a thrill. I am playing tennis to try to win titles,” Federer said. “I always said that the ranking, if you’re not No. 1 in the world, doesn’t count really. It’s secondary. Now I’m lucky, because both are in sight.”
And it would give him a huge leg up on next week, when the new No. 1 on the ATP Tour is decided.
If he loses, he will be the one chasing Rafael Nadal for the top spot. If he wins, Nadal will be the one doing the chasing, with a steeper hill to climb.
(Screenshots from TennisTV.com)