Federer backs out of Cincinnati

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It didn’t take long for a battered Roger Federer to make the call.

After suffering a 6-3, 6-4 loss to 20-year-old Alexander Zverev in the Coupe Rogers final Sunday, he needed less than 24 hours to decide that attempting another Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati was a bad idea.

And so, he’s out.

Lucky loser Thomas Fabbiano of Italy will replace him, and get a bye in the first round.

Federer is the second top seed to pull out after the draw, after Kei Nishikori’s right wrist troubled him enough in practice to lead him to withdraw.

And it means that next Monday, Rafael Nadal will be the new world No. 1 on the ATP Tour.

Not vintage, still a finalist

Federer scuffled all week long in Montreal. He never really moved that well. And he dropped a lot of sweat. But he still managed to reach the final.

On Sunday, though, he visibly appeared to get worse, perhaps an issue with his back. Early in the second set, the velocity on Federer’s serve dropped. And his motion even looked compromised.

By the end of the match, he wasn’t even bending over in his typical serve return position.

He was standing nearly straight up, and barely moving.

During the week, Federer had made a point of mentioning that he felt healthy. But he didn’t really downplay it during his post-match press conference.

“You know, felt all right all week. Had a bit of muscle pain, aches and pains here and there, just because it’s back on the match courts, on the hard courts. After vacation and practice, it’s always a bit of a shock for the body,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see now how I feel in the next couple of days.”

It took less than one day.

And in withdrawing, Federer ‘fessed up that it was, indeed, the back.

“I am very sorry to pull out of the Western and Southern Open as I always enjoy playing. Cincinnati has some of the best fans in the world and I am sorry I will miss them,” Federer said in a statement. “Unfortunately, I tweaked my back in Montreal and I need to rest this week.”

Next up for Federer will be the US Open – back permitting.

Zverev both present AND future as he wins Montreal

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Alexander Zverev, all of 20, leads the pack of future ATP Tour stars known and heavily marketed as the “Next-Gen”.

But the way he’s playing this season, he’s hardly “next”.

He’s here.

The German impressively took care of a sub-par Roger Federer in the Rogers Cup final Sunday. It was an emphatic 6-3, 6-4 victory that may well have been his, even if his 36-year-old opponent had been at 100 per cent.

Since saving match points against Richard Gasquet in his first match in Montreal (one involved a 49-shot rally), Zverev was the form player of the tournament. He punctuated that form Saturday night when he straight-setted 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

Shapovalov had been enjoying a life- and career-changing week. He upset Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal back-to-back on his way to the semis. In that sense, the younger player definitely lent a helping hand to his fellow Next-Gener by eliminating two major challenges for him.

But that’s tennis.

“(Saturday) I played someone who is two years younger. I haven’t done that in my career so far. That was something new for me. Obviously I had nerves today, which I had better under control than yesterday. I thought yesterday was a very tight match. Could have gone both ways. I felt like I didn’t play as well as I did today. I didn’t feel like I had a lot of shots under control,” Zverev said. “When I’m playing really well, when I’m feeling the ball really well, I feel like those nerves go away because I just know what I’m doing. Yesterday obviously I played well, but nowhere near as what I did today.”

Remembering Boris

There were references to another young German prodigy with the milestones Zverev reached Sunday. He became the first German player to win the Rogers Cup since 1986. Boris Becker was 18, a month removed from his second straight Wimbledon title, when he defeated longtime rival Stefan Edberg in the final in Toronto.

Zverev also is the first German player to win five titles in a season on the ATP Tour since Becker did it in 1996.

He is the youngest player to win the Rogers Cup since a 20-year-old Novak Djokovic (with his May birthday, he was a month younger than Zverev is today) won in Montreal.

Djokovic pulled off the rare trifecta; he defeated No. 3 Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. And then he defeated No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the semis. In the final, he beat No. 1 Federer in a third-set tiebreak, on a windy day much like Sunday.

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Federer joked during the trophy ceremony he needed to ask Zverev how he won Montreal: Federer has yet to win at a tournament he really likes. So much for naming it after him. (Screenshot: TennisTV.com)

Zverev did observe, as some did, that Federer’s physical form went way off early in the second set. The velocity on his serve dropped. And even his serve motion changed. By the end, he wasn’t crouching down in his typical serve return position, but almost standing straight up.

(Federer addressed that in his press conference. He’s going to take a few days before deciding whether to play Cincinnati next week).

“Obviously I noticed it. At the score of 2-2, I think his first serve got a little bit slower. You got to ask him what happened there. I don’t know. But yeah, I mean, I definitely noticed it,” Zverev said.

New career high

Zverev will leapfrog  over fellow youngster Dominic Thiem into a career-high ranking of No. 7 on Monday.

Between his title in Washington, D.C. a week ago and the Masters 1000 title Sunday, he has put 1,500 points on the board in the race for the ATP Tour finals in London.

As a first-round loser a year ago in Toronto, his net haul is significant.

And in the short-term, he can make even more gains in Cincinnati and then at the US Open. Zverev lost to No. 102 Yuichi Sugita in the first round in Cincinnati a year ago. And then he lost in the second round of the US Open to the currently suspended Dan Evans.

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Federer was full of praise for the youngster, and seemed genuinely happy about his success. (Screenshot: TennisTV.com)

With Novak Djokovic out for the season and defending Cincy champion Marin Cilic on the shelf, Zverev certainly can aspire to the No. 5 spot by the end of the summer season.

Zverev is in a quarter of the Cincinnati draw with the ailing Milos Raonic, who lost his first match in Montreal. And he’s in the same half with Federer, who may not even play.

“Alexander has been around for a while now. Not a whole long time. But at this level, I’ve gotten to play him already now for the fourth or fifth time, practiced a ton with him. We know each other well. I’m just really happy for him, to see that he’s taking everything not just to the next level, but the two next levels, winning two Masters 1000s,” Federer said. “It’s extremely difficult to win. He’s won two this year. It’s a wonderful achievement for him.

“I wish him the best for the coming months and hope he can finish the season very strong, because there’s opportunities now.”

Federer had Zverev pegged pretty early as one to watch. The notion of longevity and the challenge of playing the kids is important to him. He remembers appreciating the fact that Andre Agassi stayed around long enough so that Federer could face him on multiple occasions.

Also: they make great and (theoretically) tireless practice chum. So he often invites the up-and-comers to train with him at his base in Dubai. 

Nearly 2 1/2 years ago, when Zverev was still just 17, Federer had him out practicing at Indian Wells.

He did it again this year. Same court.

Two year-end finals?

Zverev already has clinched his appearance in the inaugural Next-Gen finals. He is eons ahead of everyone else although Shapovalov, with his effort this week, zoomed up from No. 11 to No. 3 in the race .

As for the regular Tour finals in London, Zverev now is behind only Nadal and Federer, who have already clinched their spots in the final eight.

He said after winning the Masters 1000 in Rome last May that there was no reason for him to choose which final event to play, should it come to that. He could certainly play both.

And the Next-Gen Finals in Milan are an event practically built around the 20-year-old, as the best-known and most-marketable of the new generation of players. So to skip it would not be without its consequences.

But Zverev will have played a lot of tennis by November.

If he began the 2017 season as a lock to be the best amongst the next, he may well end it being amongst the best – period.

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Zverev to the ballboys: “Hey, guys, get over here for the photo NOW!” He’s just a few years older. (Screenshot: TennisTV.com)

Cincy a question mark for Federer

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We take nothing away from the Rogers Cup champion, the surging Alexander Zverev.

But it was clear in the second set of Sunday’s final that opponent Roger Federer was hampered physically.

And Federer has not ruled out pulling out of Cincinnati next week. He is the No. 2 seed and has a small chance of returning to the No. 1 ranking.

After a first-round bye, the 36-year-old would face the winner of a match between Karen Khachanov of Russia and Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.

Had Federer won Montreal, he would have been far better positioned to take over the top spot that will be vacated by Andy Murray a week from tomorrow.

But with the defeat, Rafael Nadal’s road back to the top was eased considerably.

“I’ll travel to Cincinnati tonight, then take a decision in the next couple of days and see how I feel after five days of playing, if I’m ready to play in Cincy next week or not,” Federer said in his post match press conference.

“You know, felt all right all week. Had a bit of muscle pain, aches and pains here and there, just because it’s back on the match courts, on the hard courts. After vacation and practice, it’s always a bit of a shock for the body. We’ll have to wait and see now how I feel in the next couple of days.”

A lot at stake in Flushing

“Next couple days are important for me to take the decision on Cincinnati. Then looking ahead to the US Open, obviously I want to be in the best possible shape. Winning my third of the year, my 20th Grand Slam, would be completely insane,” Federer said. “I just hope I’m going to be 100 per cent ready when the moment arises.”

Another factor to consider is that the type of balls changes for the US Open. Federer alluded to it in his press conference.

The Rogers Cup uses Penn balls, as does the Cincinnati event while the rest of the other US Open Series tournaments (including the women’s Rogers Cup) use the Wilson US Open balls.

Federer is not the only player who feels as though all the warmup tournaments leading up to a major should be played with the same type of tennis balls. But money talks.

(The women switch from Wilson in Toronto, to Penn in Cincinnati and back to Wilson for the US Open. But they tend not to dwell on these sorts of things; they just kind of get on with it).

Scratchy Federer reaches Montreal final

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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).

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Haase and Federer practiced together often this week. But it didn’t really help Haase, who was in his first Masters 1000 semifinal.

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

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Federer’s not his usual immaculate self. But he has grinded his way to the Rogers Cup final.

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)

Federer remembers young Shapovalov

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Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov is causing quite a stir at the Rogers Cup in Montreal this week.

And Roger Federer, who often makes it his business to know exactly who’s up-and coming, remembers the 15-year-old kid he first met in Toronto in 2014 very well.

Federer practices with a ton of people. He’s taken so many of these post-practice pics with other players over the years, he probably has forgotten the majority of them even if they meant the world to his practice partners.

But he remembers the practice with Shapovalov distinctly. He told Sportsnet about it in an on-court interview, after his victory over Roberto Bautista-Agut Friday.

“I was there with Edberg. We looked for a hitting partner and this really young kid came out, And when a 15-year-old kid comes out it’s usually, ‘Ohh. It might work out. But let’s hope he’s not too nervous. Let’s hope he serves a big-enough ball.’ He did all these things great already and we were actually quite impressed.

“I watched him last year win junior Wimbledon a little bit on the TV. He’s just fearless. Keeps going for it, and that’s exactly what he did (Thursday) against Nadal. He was mighty impressive. I was really happy for him. It was a tough loss for Rafa, but what an atmosphere – and what a day for Canadian tennis. I thought it was great. He’s got an amazing future ahead of himself.”

(For a ton of archival photos and video of Shapovalov, click here)

That practice in Toronto came ahead of Federer’s final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Which he lost, in straight sets. Unrelated. 🙂

In his press conference later Friday, Federer had more praise for Shapovalov.

“I thought it was a fantastic match (against Nadal). It was exhilarating for the crowd, for the fans watching on TV, for Canadian tennis. That was cool, I’m sure, to watch for a lot of kids – to see you can go beat your hero once if you train hard in your life, stay the course. I thought it was great start to finish.

“I didn’t expect it to be this way. I thought that Rafa was going to win in straights. Denis did a great, great job. Really happy for him. Rafa was all class, he was great. It’s a good night for tennis in some ways.”

Watching at Wimbledon

And, in addition to watching the junior Wimbledon final, Federer also saw some of Shapovalov’s singles semi-final against another up-and-coming kid, Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

(That match sticks out here at Tennis.Life, as well. It was inarguably the finest junior match we’ve ever watched. Truly pro level on the all-court side. Both kids were serving and volleying. Both were chipping and charging. Both have stylish one-handed backhands. Tsitsipas’s rise has been more gradual than some of his more celebrated junior contemporaries. But he’ll get there).

“(Denis) was in all sorts of trouble. Kept going for the biggest shots, forehands, backhands and serves. I couldn’t believe what he was doing. I guess for him it’s somewhat normal for him to do that. Obviously it’s risky. Doesn’t always play off. Playing forward, doing that on Court 4 against a journeyman is a different story than doing it on center court. We all know that,” Federer said. “But not everybody can go up to that level. It seems that Denis has an extra gear. I said this before this win (against Nadal). I like his game. I think he’s going to be a wonderful player. Seems to have a good attitude, too. It was a joy to watch.”

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Shapovalov practices with Richard Gasquet of France before Wimbledon last year.

Canadian curse

We sometimes joke about the Canadian practice partner curse. But there might be something to it.

All the way back in 2008, a young junior named Vasek Pospisil was still on site at the Australian Open, because he was in the junior doubles final. Another kid named … Ryan Harrison was supposed to warm up Federer before his semi-final against Novak Djokovic. But he had a scheduling conflict; he was playing in the junior singles semifinal.

So on comes this Canadian guy to fill in during the warmup.

Djokovic beat Federer in straight sets. 🙂

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17-year-old Vasek Pospisil (right) and father Milos pose with Roger Federer after the Canadian junior warmed him up for his 2008 Australian Open semi-final against Novak Djokovic. (Courtesy Milos Pospisil)

Federer prevails over Ferrer in fast Montreal conditions

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The general consensus about the centre court at the Rogers Cup in Montreal is that it’s slow. Very slow. Slower than either Cincinnati next week or the US Open.

It might partially explain that while Roger Federer has won Cincinnati seven times, he has won the Rogers Cup only twice – and never in Montreal. He hasn’t even played in Montreal since 2011.

But on Thursday, conditions were fast.

Perhaps that’s one reason why the newly 36-year-old struggled to find his timing against the dogged David Ferrer Thursday. he finally came through with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory that puts him into the quarterfinals against another Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut.

He might not have noticed the faster conditions during his first match against Peter Polansky, because the opposition wasn’t as fierce and he wasn’t tested.

“He was tough as nails today, I’m happy I got back into the match, I needed a bit of help from David because it wasn’t my best performance,” Federer said on court after the match. “It’s fast conditions today, and it’s tough to control the ball, I must say. And I’m not quite used to the balls yet.

“The hard-court season has been a bit of a struggle for me, in practice as well. This is going to give me some rhythm, and I’m very happy about it.”

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Ferrer is now 0-17 against Federer, something the Swiss maestro has a hard time wrapping his head around because of his immense respect for the Spaniard.

Perfect conditions, an imperfect match

Federer said the speed of the court was a surprise not because he expected something else, because he had not been in Montreal for awhile. It was more a matter of just adjusting to the hard courts in general.

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Federer took a pass on the razor, showing off a little scruff.

But he definitely was out of sorts. You won’t often see him fire a ball into the crowd in annoyance. Perhaps that’s why the chair umpire didn’t dock him a code violation; he was too surprised to open his mouth. Federer followed the loss of that point with a double-fault to hand Ferrer back the break the Swiss star had just earned, early in the second set.

Federer found the solutions. Being a career 16-0 against Ferrer, who is just eight months younger, had to help.

“It was strange. Conditions are actually playing fast. That should help my serve. There was no wind. So it was actually perfect conditions to actually play a good and clean match. That’s not the way it is,” Federer said later in his press conference. “From the baseline, I didn’t have enough rhythm. The court is fast here. Of course, because of the surface, that it’s fast, you can’t just decide to put the ball in because physically David is very strong. You can’t do that. So you have to go into the battle. You have to accept you’re going to make mistakes. But you have to keep moving forward.

“I tried with my intensity and focus to change the match, and this is what I was able to do. I was able also to change the angles, and that helped me win the match,” he added.

No wife, no kids, no problem

Federer is flying solo in Montreal; for the first time in a long time, his wife and four children are not on hand. Perhaps that’s why he was able to sneak out to the Coldplay concert earlier this week.

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No kids, no wife – bachelor week for Federer.

It might also be why he has allowed himself to look a little scruffy. No need to worry about the kids complaining about daddy’s whiskers hurting when he cuddles them.

The temporary bachelor thought it would be nice and quiet. It hasn’t turned out that way.

“Of course, I miss ’em, number one. That’s what I feel the most. Secondly, I know I’ll see them very soon, so I’m fine there. It’s not, like, the first week of my life where I’m by myself. I’m used to it, as well. But, you know, I still somehow am very busy. Trying to sleep as much as I can, preparing,” he said.

“Now that I’m playing every day, you know, there’s not that much time. Came here this morning at 11:00 and I’m leaving late. Then I got treatment, press, everything. So it’s full days, you know. I’ll try to relax tonight. But, yeah, I thought it was going to be more quiet this week, but it wasn’t, so…”

Federer also has a perfect record against Bautista-Agut (6-0), whom he considers to pose a challenge similar to the one Ferrer offers. Their last tussle was tight, though; Federer defeated Bautista-Agut in two tiebreakers in the third round of the Miami event in late March.

Federer confirms he’ll be in Montreal

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The suspense is over.

Despite his uncertainty about playing the Rogers Cup after winning at Wimbledon a few weeks ago, Roger Federer confirmed Tuesday that he will, indeed, be in Montreal next week.

Here’s the press-release quote:

“I’m happy to be coming back to Montreal, as I have not had the chance to play there for many years,. This 2017 season has been very exciting and I am really looking forward to being back on the court on the ATP Tour.”

The confirmation comes less than a week before the main draw begins. But it’s not the most dramatic Roger Federer confirmation the tournament has had.

Back in 2009, with his first set of twins born July 24, most people thought he was going to skip the tournament.

The confirmation – welcome as it was – came practically as Federer was boarding the plane to come to Montreal. He arrived, and went out for an evening hit on centre court with his countryman Marco Chiudinelli.

Federer’s birthday falls during the tournament every year. This year, it will be on the Tuesday. That same day, highly touted Montreal prospect Félix Auger-Aliassime turns 17.

Unfortunately, they can’t have their first dual birthday celebration, because Auger-Aliassime is out indefinitely with a wrist injury.

Federer celebrates his 22nd birthday in Montreal in 2003. He reached the semi-finals that year, losing to Andy Roddick in a match that, had he won it, would have given him the No. 1 ranking for the first time in his career.

Somewhat surprisingly, Federer has only won the Rogers Cup twice. But he has never won it in Montreal. And the last time he did win it was in Toronto in 2006.

His best effort in Montreal came the following year, in 2007. There, he lost to a young Novak Djokovic in the final.

Djokovic beat No. 3, No. 2 and then No. 1 to win in Montreal in 2007. So far, he’s the only big name absent in 2017.

Djokovic, then just turned 20 and already No. 4 in the world, defeated No. 3 Andy Roddick, No. 2 Rafael Nadal and then No. 1 Federer in a blustery wind to take the title the hard way.

In 2009 and 2011 in Montreal, Federer lost to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France. 

He has only played the event once in the last five years, in 2014 in Toronto.

There, he reached the final and lost to … Tsonga.

So far, Djokovic is the only top gun to send his regrets, as he is taking the rest of the season off to heal up a persistent elbow issue.

Andy Murray, the other question mark because of a hip problem, hasn’t played since Wimbledon but was named the top seed on the men’s side.

Which doesn’t necessarily, 100 per cent, mean he’ll play. But he’s still entered.

Federer calls out next gen to be better

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Maybe it was the celebratory party, which went on until 5 a.m.

But it seems Roger Federer was in a feisty mood Monday for his champions press conference at Wimbledon.

Maybe a little hungover, too, which is awesome.

‘Yeah, my head’s ringing. I don’t know what I did last night. I drank too many types of drinks, I guess. After the ball we went to a bar – and there were almost 30 to 40 friends that were there. So we had a great time,” he told the media at the conference. 

Federer, who won his eighth Wimbledon title and his 19th Grand Slam overall on Sunday, sent out a simple call to those attempting to follow in the footsteps of the Big Four and win big titles.

Be better.

The fact that they haven’t, Federer feels, is one reason the 30-somethings are not only sticking around longer, but still winning.

Here are a selection of quotes, from Mike Dickson’s story in the Daily Mail, and stories in The Telegraph. More by clicking on the links.

“A slugfest with Andy (Murray) from the baseline or Rafa (Nadal) for that matter – good luck if you are No. 50 in the world. It is not so simple to take them out … They can choose not to play that way, if the coach has taught them to play differently.”

‘I know you can easily get sucked into that mode when you don’t want to attack, but if you can’t volley you are not going to go to the net. Almost every player I played here wouldn’t serve and volley. It’s frightening to me, to see this at this level.”

“I look at the stats and go into whatever round it is and see that the guy I’m going to face is playing two per cent of serve and volley throughout the championship. I’m going, ‘OK, I know he’s not going to serve and volley’, which is great. We are talking about grass, and it was playing fast this week. I feel like I wish that we would see more coaches, more players taking chances up at the net because good things do happen there.”

“Since mine and Rafa’s generation the next one hasn’t been strong enough to push all of us out really.” he said. “So that’s helpful for us to be able to keep hanging around.” 

He’s not wrong about Wimbledon. And the lack of pressure at the net from opponents is probably the biggest Federer himself didn’t come to the net all that much.

He didn’t have to.

Multiple skills, multiple ways to win

In a macro sense, it was reminiscent of the period of time in the last decade that Federer was nearly unbeatable. He stuck to the baseline fairly consistently back then. And that’s why, when he returned to the aggressive, forward-thinking approach he had earlier in his career, there were so many theories out there.

The biggest one was that his super-coach at the time, Stefan Edberg, had some sort of big influence.

But in the end, maybe it was far simpler than that.

During those dominating years, Federer didn’t come to the net because … he didn’t have to. He was winning anyway. When he stopped winning as much, he added back some of his old weapons to become more competitive, more relevant again.

Tennis is a game of bait-and-switch. And that’s what champions do. When the opposition catches up to your game, you make adjustments.

The problem with many of those who have come behind him and his peers is that they never developed those weapons. And so, they don’t have additional elements to pull out of the tool box when things aren’t going their way in a match.

Even Nadal, over the years, has added a forward game to his options. And at 31, he may well become No. 1 again this summer.

It’s not as though the next group coming up don’t have plenty of talent. But they likely don’t have Murray- or Djokovic-level talent do do what those two have done from the baseline.

Too late?

It’s a big challenge. Because by the time these guys get to the big leagues, their games are set for the most part. It’s very difficult to extend your range on the court, add a transition game, without taking significant time off to retool.

They have to try to do it while still trying to win tennis matches, improve their ranking, and earn their living.

When you’re in pressure-packed situations on a tennis court, you’re going to stick with what you know best, what you have in your muscle memory, and what you can do without having to think about it.

All of which to say, the 30-somethings aren’t going away. But Federer’s callout should be heeded by the coaches of the teenaged players, those who are still developing their games. So that when those players get to the top level, they will have a complete set of tools and just be better.

History was routine as Federer gets Wimbledon No. 8

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WIMBLEDON – With his eighth ace of the match, Roger Federer won his eighth Wimbledon title Sunday.

He turns 36 on the eighth of next month, the eighth month of the year.

And with a game, but hobbled Marin Cilic on the other side of the net, it was the easiest final of his Wimbledon career.

The 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 victory took just an hour and 47 minutes.

He gave up … eight games. He also warmed up for the match on Court No. 8, if he needed more instances of his lucky number to get him over the top.

“Wimbledon was always my favorite tournament, will always be my favorite tournament. My heroes walked the grounds here and walked the courts here. Because of them, I think I became a better player, too. To mark history here at Wimbledon really means a lot to me just because of all of that really. It’s that simple,” Federer said. 

“Funny enough, I didn’t think that much of it throughout today, throughout the trophy ceremony. I was more just so happy that I was able to win Wimbledon again because it’s been a long road, it’s been an exciting road. It’s been tough at times, but that’s how it’s supposed to be,” he added. “So to be Wimbledon champion for an entire year now is something I can’t wait, you know, to savor and just enjoy. So it was super special.”

Tears on both sides

Federer

If Federer shed some tears at the moment of victory, and again a little later as spotted the arrival of his four children in the player’s box, there were tears from Cilic, too.

Sadly, they were tears of a completely different kind.

The 28-year-old Croat was absolutely beside himself, sitting in his chair down a set and a service break and heaving huge sobs into his towel.

An extended changeover had Cilic attended to by a host of officials, but no one could console the Croat.

The physio, the tournament doctor and Grand Slam official Stefan Fransson surrounded him. But there was really nothing they could do for him.

Later, as Cilic took a medical timeout to have the ball of his left foot retaped, the picture became a little clearer. Cilic said he felt it – a big, oozing blister, to be graphic – during the semifinal win over Sam Querrey.

“Every time I had to do a reaction fast, fast change of movement, I was unable to do that. Obviously was very tough emotionally because I know how much I went through last few months in preparation with everything. It was also tough because of my own team. They did so much for me. I just felt it was really bad luck,” Cilic said.

The medical staff tried to get some of the fluid out after the Querrey match. They even tried to numb the area with anaesthetic, but Cilic said the skin in that area was tough, and they weren’t able to completely numb it.

That sinking feeling

He probably didn’t get the best night’s sleep of his life, as a consequence. And he knew, as early as the warmup when he tested out changes of direction, that he was cooked.

The tears? “It was just emotionally that I knew on such a big day that I’m unable to play my best tennis, in physical, and in every single way,” Cilic said. “That was just a little bit combination of all emotions because I know how much it took for me to get here.”

It would take a heart of stone not to empathize with the gentle giant, who was in his first Wimbledon final and clearly knew that he wasn’t in shape to give it his very best, on the grandest stage in tennis.

Federer could not afford to empathize, though. He had a match to win.

As that changeover ended and umpire Damien Dumusois called “time”, Cilic was still sitting there, a towel over his head. Federer crossed the court right in front of him – not even giving him a sideways glance – and went out to finish the job.

If it seemed heartless, Federer couldn’t afford to take his eye off the ball for a single second. He had history to make.

And when you’re in that position, you can’t let anything or anyone distract you from the task at hand.

“I thought when he called the doctor first, I thought maybe he was dizzy or something. Because I couldn’t tell what it was, it actually made things easier. If I saw him limping around, or if I saw him pull up hurt in some place, I would start to think, Okay, maybe I’ll throw in a drop shot to really check him out, then want more, because that’s what you do,” he said, smiling. “You need to hurt him, you know, where it hurts already.

“Because I didn’t know and I couldn’t tell, I just said, ‘Focus on your game, focus on your match, keep playing’. The good thing is I was already in the lead.”

Sympathetic crowd helpless

The crowd tried to urge Cilic on. He continued with reddened eyes, the tears still coming. And because of the foot, he began trying to compete in any way he could.

But if Marin Cilic is serving and volleying to try to win a tennis match, his opponent has to know it’s just a matter of time.

Cilic, who like Federer has never retired in the middle of a match during his long career, didn’t quit.

“That’s what I did throughout my career, I never gave up. I gave my best, but that’s all I could do,” Cilic said on court.

“I had an amazing journey here, played the best tennis of my life. And I really want to thank my team; they gave so much strength to me … To all my fans in Croatia. It was really tough today, and I gave it all. I’m hoping I’m going to come back here and try it one more time.”

It’s the first time since 2012 that Federer has won Wimbledon. And he now is the only player ever to have won it eight times.

As much as the Australian Open title back in January was a surprise, after Federer was away for the game for six months trying to ensure he didn’t need a second knee surgery and taking one more deep breath, this one was a coronation.

He didn’t lose a set in seven matches on the way to the title, the first to do that since Bjorn Borg in 1976.

No free pass for Federer

The Swiss star’s great rivals were all on hand for this tournament; it’s not as though he jumped through cavernous holes in the draw.

But countryman Stan Wawrinka, who has won every major but this one, was out in the first round.

Rafael Nadal, the other top player in vintage form this season, had a big hiccup in the first two sets of his fourth-round match against Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, and fell just short of a monstrous comeback.

Defending champion Andy Murray and three-time champion Novak Djokovic found themselves betrayed by their bodies.

So all the stars aligned for Federer during this edition of the Championships. And there’s a certain irony in that.

Since his last Wimbledon title in 2012, a common school of thought was that maybe Federer could win one more Slam, the 19th of his career. But everything would have to line up just perfectly. He would need some help from other players to perhaps get some of the other top contenders out of the way. And then, maybe, he could sneak one out.

The way he has been playing this season, it’s not a crazy notion to think that he wouldn’t even have needed any outside help to win this one. Still, in the gilded universe of Federer, he had the path smoothed for him anyway.

No points to defend

It’s a remarkable story, not only in tennis but also in sports. And as Federer exits the first half of the season he seems to be fresh, and healthy – and hungry for more.

“I hope this wasn’t my last match and I hope I can come back next year and defend the title,” Federer said on court.

Later, he clarified.

“Honestly, ever since I had the year I had last year, I do think probably like a year ahead of time, you know, with my schedule, fitness schedule, tournaments I would like to play. So I totally see myself playing here this time next year. But because it’s far away, because of what happened last year, I just like to take the opportunity to thank the people in the very moment, and make them understand, yes, I hope that I’m back. There’s never a guarantee, especially not at 35, 36,” he said. “But the goal is definitely to be here again next year to try and defend.”

Despite the reality that at his age, he’s far less impervious to injury and will need longer to recover from one, does anyone doubt it?

 

No. 8 for Federer – or No. 1 for Cilic?

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WIMBLEDON – To this point, this Wimbledon has seemed smooth and easy for Roger Federer.

Despite a lingering cold that had him blowing his nose on multiple changeovers during his semifinal victory over Tomas Berdych, he has appeared unruffled.

The 35-year-old Swiss has had a good draw, save perhaps for 2016 finalist Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals. And he won’t have to beat any combination of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray to win the title.

In fact, he won’t have to defeat any of them.

The scenario, as it has unfolded, couldn’t have been more ideal.

Federer, when the grass was greener. He’s now on the other side. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Only one man stands in his way in Sunday’s men’s singles final. And if he’s not a multiple Grand Slam champion like some of Federer’s other great rivals, at least he – not unlike Garbiñe Muguruza Saturday – knows what it’s like to win a major.

Cilic with the tougher road

Croatia’s Marin Cilic has arrived to his first Wimbledon singles final tried and tested.

He could have gone down to No. 16 Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in the quarterfinals. And perhaps he might have, had Muller not had the five-set marathon against Rafael Nadal in his 34-year-old legs. 

He could have been in danger against American Sam Querrey in the semi-finals. And perhaps he would have, had Querrey not played three consecutive five-set matches just to get there.

But that’s a Grand Slam. By the time the second week rolls around, the matches begin to accumulate and the victories are sometimes acquired as much with early-round efficiency and good draw luck as the actual tennis.

One stat that might make the difference: Federer has saved 16 of the 20 break points he has faced so far. Cilic has saved 14 of the 24 he has faced.

Relatively speaking, Cilic has faced fewer; he has 109 service games, to Federer’s 83. But that’s not a great save rate. Federer can he infamous, at times, for failing to convert break points. Unless we see a lot of tiebreaks, the match might come down to Cilic’s ability to improve on that save rate, versus Federer’s tendency to squander those opportunities.

Cilic has only beaten Federer once. But it’s most definitely a match the Swiss remembers. It came in the semifinal of the 2014 US Open.

The winner would play Kei Nishikori to win the title – one of those rare times in recent years – just like this year’s Wimbledon – that a major has not meant getting through a member of the Big Four.

But Cilic rolled to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory that day, and won his maiden major.

A year later, a different matchup

A year ago here, Federer was physically diminished. But he still found a way to come back from an 0-2 set deficit to defeat Cilic 6-7 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9), 6-3. It was the 10th time Federer had come back from such a deep hole. But it showed when he played Raonic in the next round and ran just short on energy, losing that one in five.

The two are very different players a year later.

Federer is reenergized after the six-month break he took after last year’s Wimbledon and is arguably playing the best tennis of his career.

Cilic, always a quiet but consistent presence in the top 10 even if he’s not had another close sniff at a major title since that US Open, is also on top of his game.

But, as with Querrey in his semi-final match, will the miles logged show up in the final?

Federer has spent four minutes short of 10 hours on the court in six matches. Cilic has spent two minutes short of 14 1/2 hours – and 6 1/2 hours of those were expended in his last two matches.

A few stats

“Oldest-ever stats” for Federer

**If Federer wins, he’ll be the oldest man in the Open era to win Wimbledon. The record will be held by Aussie Ken Rosewall probably until time immemorial; Rosewall won the 1972 Australian Open at 37 years, 62 days.

**If Federer wins, the five-year gap since his last Wimbledon title will be the second-longest in the Open era. Jimmy Connors won in 1974, and then not again until 1982. There were a couple of chaps named Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe who stood in the way during those years.

**If Federer wins in straight sets, he’ll become just the third man in the Open era to win multiple majors without dropping a set. He has only done it once – at the 2007 Australian Open. Borg did it three times, as did Rafael Nadal at the French Open (including this year).

**The final today is Federer’s 102nd match at Wimbledon. It ties Connors, so obviously Federer will have to come back next year and break it. He played his 100th match at the Australian Open in the final this year. He needs 11 more at the US Open and 19 more at Roland Garros to complete the quadruple-centenary.

“Patience” stats for Cilic

**Cilic’s compatriot and former coach Goran Ivanisevic, one of only two other Croats to win Grand Slams (Iva Majoli is the other) won Wimbledon in 2001 as a wild card, in his 14th try. If Cilic wins, it will be on his 11th attempt. (Andy Murray needed eight, Novak Djokovic seven – but those two started awfully young).

**If Cilic wins, he’ll be the first player outside the so-called “Big Four” of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray” to win Wimbledon since 2002. Lleyton Hewitt won that year. He’s only the second player outside that exclusive group to even reach reach the final (along with Raonic) since Nadal defeated Tomas Berdych in the 2010 final.

**Cilic’s results in majors against top-five ranked players are not good. He’s 1-11 in his last 12 matches; the only victory was that win over Federer at the US Open.

**If Cilic wins, he’ll move to a new career high of No. 5 in the rankings. If Federer wins, he’ll jump from No. 5 to No. 3.

The oddsmakers in Great Britain have the match overwhelmingly in the seven-time champions’ favor. He’s at 1-6 to win it; Cilic has 4-1 odds.

  (Stats and numbers from the ATP Tour)