While Roger Federer is living the life of Riley in Dubai, preparing for the grass-court season as the rest of the Tour toils on the dirt, he got a rankings gift on Monday.
The 36-year-old is back in the No. 1 spot.
It was always likely to happen during the clay-court season, as rival Rafael Nadal had such a high standard to defend from a year ago.
And so when Nadal was beaten by Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals of Madrid – after winning the tournament in 2017 – the deed was done.
Federer is now 720 points ahead.
Nadal, the top seed in Rome, was a quarterfinalist there last year, out of gas after Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.
He’s dropping 180 points. To get the No. 1 spot back, he would have to win Rome and earn those 1,000 points. He would then squeeze past Federer and back into the No. 1 spot in the rankings by 100 points going into Paris.
ON THE UPSWING
Kevin Anderson (RSA): No. 8 ———-> No. 7 (Career high for the 31-year-old transplanted South African).
Lucas Pouille (FRA): No. 18———-> No. 16 (The French No. 1 has hardly won a match for awhile, but he moves up two because of the struggles of Djokovic and Berdych).
Kyle Edmund (GBR): No. 22 ———-> No. 19 (The British No. 1 joins the top 20 after his Madrid semifinal).
Denis Shapovalov (CAN): No. 43———> No. 29 (Welcome to the top 30, and a seeded spot in Paris).
Steve Johnson (USA): No. 55 ———-> No. 48 (Back into the top 50 without doing a single thing).
John Millman (AUS): No. 70———-> No. 58 (The unsung Aussie is at a career high after beating more highly-touted countryman Bernard Tomic in the Aix-en-Provence final).
Dusan Lajovic (SRB): No. 95 ———-> No. 66 (The 27-year-old Serb is close to a career high reached 3 1/2 years ago, after going from the qualifying to the quarters in Madrid and beating the likes of Richard Gasquet and Juan Martin del Potro along the way).
Vasek Pospisil (CAN): No. 88 ———> No. 78 (The Canadian is holding his own, working for points on the Asian Challenger circuit).
Bernard Tomic (AUS): No. 243 ———-> No. 191 (Has the resurrection begun? Tomic reaches the Aix-en-Provence Challenger final).
Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN): No. 362——–> No. 262 (From the qualifying to the title at the Gimcheon Challenger, the 22-year-old lefty was ranked No. 58 a year ago before tearing his ACL and is on the comeback trail).
ON THE DOWNSWING
Novak Djokovic (SRB): No. 12 ———-> No. 18 (The drop is going to hurt Djokovic’s seeding in Paris, although if he can raise his level somewhere close to its best, that won’t matter).
MIAMI, Fla. – Winning Indian Wells and Miami back to back, as Roger Federer did a year ago in his return from a six-month absence, was always going to be a challenging proposition to repeat.
But between that, and being out of the Miami Open in his first match, there’s a chasm few could have predicted would open up.
But Federer is out in the second round, defeated 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) by Australian qualifier Thanasi Kokkinakis.
In the process, Federer also lost the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
Rafael Nadal, who has played just one tournament this year because of injury but had fewer points to defend as the 2017 Miami finalist rather than champion, will take it back April 2.
Whether he can hold onto it, with all the points he must defend during the clay-court season, is to be determined.
“I deserve it after this match. That’s how I feel. Just so bad,” said Federer, who said he spent the entire match searching for solutions, and never really finding them. Still, he was just a few points away from making a great escape.
“I feel like I wasn’t feeling good. The ball, I wasn’t feeling. With my movement, things weren’t absolutely working. I felt like the third (set) could be a tricky one, of course. I feel like every time I had chances, something bad happened for me, wrong decision making by me, good decision making by him. Who knows what happened. It just felt like I could be paying the price for opportunities missed,” Federer said.
At No. 175, Kokkinakis is the lowest-ranked player to defeat a sitting No. 1 since Spanish lefty Francisco Clavet (No. 178) defeat Lleyton Hewitt at this same tournament 15 years ago.
Kokkinakis a promising teen
As a teenager, the 21-year-old was in the same conversation as other up-and-comers including his friend and countryman Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric. So for him, this was a breakthrough victory as he makes his way back after numerous injuries the last two years.
The biggest one was the shoulder surgery he had in Dec. 2015. He missed nine months. But it’s a surgery that many tennis players don’t fully come back from, especially on the serve. It was going to take more time than that to return to full strength again.
“At the start I was rushing a little bit. Obviously he puts a lot of pressure on you, doesn’t really play like many players. Obviously he’s a lot better than a lot of players. But game style-wise, he’s a lot different. Took a little bit of time to adjust,” Kokkinakis said. “Then when the game kind of slowed down to me, I started being able to execute and do what I needed to. I thought I was in control of more baseline rallies, for sure.”
Funnily enough, the numbers don’t really bear out their assessments. in the medium-range rallies (five to nine shots), Federer won 31-of-45.
Kokkinakis needed a wild card just to get into the qualifying here. He defeated No. 16 seed Thiago Monteiro of Brazil and No. 8 seed Taro Daniel (who defeated Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells) to make the main draw. In the first round of the main draw, he easily rolled past fellow qualifier Calvin Hemery.
This was other level, compared to those wins.
As with any upset where the rankings disparity is so great, it took some great play from the Aussie, and some poorer play from the No. 1 to even the playing field.
“I feel like it already started beginning of the second set, when I had break points first game, and he almost wanted to give me that game, and I couldn’t take it. … From that moment on, I played maybe a bad 10 minutes, which cost me the second set, maybe the match,” Federer said. “Look, it’s disappointing. Don’t know why I could never get to any level that I was happy with today. Sometimes you have these matches. Sometimes you find a way through. I just couldn’t get it done today.”
Kokkinakis felt the shifts in Federer tactics as he pushed back after the first set.
“He puts a lot of pressure on you with the way he plays. He shrinks the court, so it’s tough. When the game slowed down a little bit, I started controlling the points with my forehand. I think he felt it, too, that I was winning a lot of the baseline rallies. He started to come into net a lot,” Kokkinakis said. “The third set, I was holding on a lot of moments, tight moments, where he was in control of the third set. Played big when it mattered. I thought I played a really solid mental tiebreak, and, yeah, got it done.
“I said, If he beats me by hitting winners, too good. But he didn’t,” he added.
These are the types of matches an older player will tend to have more often as he ages. But Federer has had surprisingly few of them in the 15 months since he returned to action.
Dubai guest beats the master
And he lost to one of his young protégés, in a manner of speaking – one of the young up-and-comers he has invited to Dubai to train with him in the off-season.
Those coveted invitations can, in some cases, be intimidating for the young prospects. In this case, Kokkinakis took everything he could from them and came out realizing that Federer was still only human.
“He’s been real supportive. Anything he thinks in my game, how it should operate, I’ve been all ears listening to him. To share the court, have such a big win on a big court against the world No. 1, it’s pretty crazy. Pretty happy about it,” Kokkinakis said. “Yeah, I mean, everyone is human. He just plays tennis a lot better than a lot of people.”
“I’m a positive thinker. I feel like every match is an another opportunity. Especially after losing one, clearly I’m down right now. I’m disappointed. I’m frustrated a little bit that I couldn’t find a way. It’s unfortunate how it goes,” Federer said.
“Yeah, it’s pretty simple at the end of the day. You go back to the practice court or go on vacation, you really take a break, get away from it all. When you come back to the practice court to work, whatever it is, you do it at 100 per cent.”
Kokkinakis will play No. 31 seed Fernando Verdasco in the third round. He’ll be facing him, as he did Federer, for the first time.
He will be inside the top 150 with what he has done so far in Miami, inside the top 130 if he can beat the veteran Spanish lefty.
The entry deadline for the main draw at the French Open is in just over three weeks. Kokkinakis would need to win two more matches to be on the bubble to get straight in to a Grand Slam on his own ranking.
Since the last time that happened, at the 2015 US Open, he has either been absent or needed a wild card to play.
Thanks to the magic of Net Jets, Federer and Rod Laver and company, including Nick Kyrgios, flew to Chicago very early Monday morning and did a lot of promotion for the upcoming (in six months) second edition of the Laver Cup.
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – With all the absences, with Novak Djokovic going out early, and with so many high seeds gone too soon, the BNP Paribas Open men’s singles final turned out all right after all.
No. 1 seed Roger Federer and No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro, two extremely popular players both on form this season, will vie for the trophy Sunday.
After that, it’s possible one of both of them will finally shave.
The two fuzzy finalists took different paths to the final match Saturday as Federer grinded out a win, and del Potro cruised on a way the conditions made things challenging.
Federer looked like a man who pressed the snooze button too many times until halfway through his match against 21-year-old Borna Coric of Croatia.
Most often, television and the tournaments themselves demand the world No. 1 get an spotlight match in the evening session. At worst, he tends to play late afternoon. So the 11 a.m. start may have felt as foreign to him as a middle-of-the-night wakeup call for a commuter flight.
The ATP Tour said that Federer had had just two 11 a.m. starts prior to this in his career: in 2006 here in the desert, and in 2004 at the tournament in Gstaad, Switzerland.
“Pasta at 9:15. It was yummy,” Federer quipped during is post-match interview for ESPN.
Tough conditions, tough match
The No. 1 looked out of sorts, perhaps a little stiff and sore, too (the cold, windy weather is not a friend to any 36-year-old professional athlete). And before he knew it he was down a set an a break to Coric, the 49th-ranked Croat who pulled off a third-set tiebreak win over No. 7 seed Kevin Anderson in the previous round.
But Federer woke up. He adjusted his targets to cut down the errors he was making in the wind. And Coric woke up, too – only in a different way. Faced with the prospect of upsetting the world No. 1, he flinched just enough, strayed from a successful game plan just enough, to allow Federer to pull out a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Better lucky than good – but both help
Federer admitted he had some luck. He also didn’t decide, when he was in big trouble, that perhaps it just wasn’t going to be his day and ride out the inevitable.
“I think when you are confident and maybe also experienced and you have that combination, there’s no real need to panic, you know, because you can assess the situation quite easily,” Federer said. “You’re understanding that the opponent is playing better. It’s breezy. It’s hard to play offense. And when I was playing offense he was defending well. In the neutral rally balls, maybe I was missing a bit too many times.
“I think Borna played a great match. He was very steady. I can see why he caused a lot of problems to a lot of players, and he’s only going to improve from here,” Federer added. “Look, I should have lost the match. I was down twice a break in the third, I was down a break in the second. So, yeah, no doubt about it, this was definitely the toughest match, maybe the toughest match (this season).”
Despite appearances – at least early on – Federer said he was fine, physically. He said he was just caught off-guard by Coric’s game, the way he absorbed power so well and how he neutralized his offensive game combined with what Federer termed a recent “recalibration” of his game style to become a little more offensive-minded.
“He won because he’s Roger Federer”
Coric thought he had it, at some moments.
The Croat said the quick start was a combination of himself playing well, and Federer not playing well.
“But he stayed in the match and he pushed me. He basically, you know, he said to me, ‘Okay, you need to win the match. I’m not going to give the match to you.’ Many other players, especially because I was playing very good and I was not missing, many other players would just give the match away, you know, and he didn’t do it,” Coric said.
He won also because he’s Roger Federer, and because he plays great. … He played, I think, tactically very, very good, very smart in those very important points, you know, which I was a little bit surprised.”
Undefeated in 2018
Federer is now 17-0 to start the season – the best start of his career. Del Potro is not far behind him at 16-3. And despite some back woes earlier in the tournament, the Argentine looked in perfect form Saturday and had little trouble with Raonic.
The Canadian’s lack of match play this season – and the Argentine’s abundance of it – contributed to del Potro having more confidence in being aggressive in the challenging conditions. Raonic never found his rhythm.
“I was sort of trying to find a groove. Especially when you sort of haven’t played for a while, you already are overthinking a lot of things. And then, with the wind, you’re not sure. You don’t have just that calm and ease about going through things and figuring things out on the fly,” said Raonic, whose ranking will rise from No. 38 to No. 25 with his week in the desert.
“It was surprising to see him serving not too hard, and I broke his serve very quick in both sets. That give me the control of the match,” del Potro said. ” I play a smart game, because the conditions were tough to play, but I did everything good. And I served well. I took all my chances. It was an easier match than what I expect before.”
25th meeting between Federer and del Potro
Federer is 18-6 against del Potro during their careers.
But despite that rather lopsided head-to-head, they have had some fascinating tussles. Del Potro has defeated Federer at some of the tournaments that mean the most to him. He won back-to-back three-setters in the finals of the Basel event (Federer’s hometown tournament) in 2012 and 2013. And he has beaten Federer twice at the US Open, including last year.
“We both know what the other is trying to do, and we try to stop the other person from doing it. But it’s hard when me or him is in full flight. It’s basically an arm wrestle the whole time, and I think we enjoy that,” Federer said.
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The BNP Paribas Open was the first tournament to understand and exploit the fact that non-diehard tennis fans want to watch the stars, above all else.
Those fans make up the bulk of the tickets sold at any big tournament. If only the diehards attended, you wouldn’t see these types of crowds. That’s why this event and so many others work hard to turn the tennis event into an overall “experience.”
Many of those casual fans – and, of course, the fans of particular players – would rather watch the big guns practice than take in a spellbinding three-setter between two players they don’t know as well.
The players also are in a more relaxed frame of mind, and more willing to engage with those watching on.
Not only are the Indian Wells stands set up around the practice courts for that purpose (a model copied by many other events now, including the US Open), the bonus is that best male players will typically hit on the two front practice courts.
(Maria Sharapova, Venus and Serena Williams almost always opt for Practice Court 9. That court is all the way in the corner of the complex, and in a spot where the fans are roped off one practice court away. Sometimes, they will refuse the media access, as well – depending on their mood).
A Friday double delight
On Friday, on Practice Courts 1 and 2, there was double trouble.
First Novak Djokovic came out with Lucas Pouille.
Then, half an hour later, Roger Federer came out with Diego Schwartzman.
(As it happens, because of Saturday night’s rainout, Djokovic and Federer were scheduled back to back on Sunday, as they make their 2018 Indian Wells debuts. Djokovic went down to Japan’s Taro Daniel. And then Federer took the court to complete his match against Federico Delbonis of Argentina).
Here’s what it looks like when two superstars are side-by-side.
Standing-room only – and even then
The stands were packed well in in advance.
And you can see by the video that they were jammed into every possible corner and peering over fences everywhere, some on their tippy-toes.
There were both kinds of fans. Djokovic has his crew. And there were also Federer fans in the crowd who arrived early to get a hard-to-snag seat.
It’s not something you get to see often. And it’s no wonder that so many took a pass on the actual match action for a few hours to watch it.
In the absence of Rafael Nadal, these two are it as far as the rock stars of the men’s circuit at this year’s BNP Paribas Open (with no offense intended to the rest of the players in the draw).
Needless to say, the two were much in demand from autograph seekers after their practice.
We’ll have more video on that later today.
With Djokovic already eliminated, there won’t be any more such opportunities this year.
It’s a running collection, not a tennis collection that “flawlessly fuses asymmetrical aesthetics with Nike’s latest running innovations — including Nike Dri-FIT and Nike AeroReact. Traditional colors and whimsical sublimation patterns accentuate a performance collection complete with a range of reflective graphics, diverse storage solutions.”
That’s quite a thing.
No. 1 sights and sounds
Here’s what it looked and sounded like.
As Federer was hitting tennis balls, the draw was being made for the men’s singles.
And for the first time since 2010, he found his name at the top of the drawsheet.
(Not to jinx him, but the last time Federer played this tournament as the No. 1, he lost his second match – third round – in a third-set tiebreak to then-No. 33 Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus).
After a first-round bye, Federer will play the winner of Ryan Harrison vs. Federico Delbonis. And then, perhaps No. 25 seed Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.
He got the “worst” of the non top-four seeds in a potential quarterfinal. But that No. 5 seed happens to be Dominic Thiem of Austria.
Thiem is less of a threat on the hard courts. But the Indian Wells courts are so darn slow that they may help him. Thiem was a quarterfinalist a year ago, losing in a third-set tiebreak to Stan Wawrinka.
He has No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov in his half, while No. 2 Marin Cilic and No. 4 Alexander Zverev are in the other half.
Also in the other half – No. 10 seed Novak Djokovic and No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro.
Federer looks in good shape from that perspective. But he does have to reach the semifinals to remain No. 1, given he’s defending 1,000 points from a year ago.
If he doesn’t, Rafael Nadal will overtake the top spot without even playing the event.
The cardboard-looking concoction with the word “oldest” on it crafted to mark the occasion probably won’t make Roger Federer’s jet back to Switzerland.
But whether he’s first, last, oldest, youngest, tallest, best-coiffed or Swissest, the 36-year-old will once again be the No. 1 ranked player on the ATP Tour when the new rankings are released on Monday.
Federer took a last-minute wild card into the ATP 500 Rotterdam event, and needed to win three matches and reach the semifinals to grab that top spot again.
He did it Friday night, against a very under-the-weather-looking Robin Haase.
The 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory guaranteed the numbers will add up. And Federer will return to the top spot for the first time since early November, 2012.
A number of No. 1 records
Federer is back at the top of the game – at least for moment – for the first time in five years and 106 days.
That shatters the ATP record for longest gap, held by Andre Agassi since 1999.
The gap of 14 years and 17 days since the first time Federer became No. 1 is also a record, unlikely to ever be touched (although never say never).
And he is now by far the oldest man ever on the ATP Tour to be No. 1, surpassing Agassi’s “oldest” record by more than three years.
Nike was already prepared. Federer’s sponsors are pretty good at having all this stuff ready – just in case.
The Rotterdam event, with tournament director Richard Krajicek out on court, had a ceremony all prepared
But Haase looked like he might spoil the show early on.
Surely Federer had some nerves. But Haase, who is playing good tennis right now and also is the highest-ranked male player in the host country, didn’t show up to hand the crown to his Swiss friend. And it was the one place this matchup wasn’t going to have the crowd overwhelmingly in Federer’s favor.
Federer later acknowledged that he knew Haase had not been feeling well all week. And by the end, the Dutchman wasn’t even sitting down on a changeover which, most tennis players will concur, usually means your back is killing you.
Haase also, at one point, appeared to vomit in a nearby garbage can grabbed for the occasion.
Had he not played at all, that would have been … well, a little anticlimactic and awkward.
Haase, who is friendly with Federer, also stayed for the entire ceremony. It wasn’t his first rodeo with Swiss players and occasions.
“Ironically, (Haase) has to go through another ceremony with another Swiss guy. Six months ago in Basel it was Marco (Chiudinelli) he took on court doing the round of honours, and how you have to watch this,” Federer said. “I’m sorry you have to do all these things.”
Federer tribute at the ready
The tribute began with Krajicek’s rambling speech about Federer’s fabulousness, and a video testimonial to the same fabulousness.
“Thank you for being the great guy that you are – he really is an unbelievable guy. And thanks for being an amazing ambassador for the sport we all love,” Kracijek said.
(Lest anyone think Federer has a healthy ego, well … it’s probably difficult not to develop one when nearly everyone you meet, every single day, is telling you how fabulous you are).
Apparently I'm the oldest tennis player with a #1️⃣ ranking. Somebody might have mentioned that to me already but I had a hard time hearing 👴🏻
Federer was emotional, but calm. He pointed out the three different phases of being No. 1, when you’re Roger Federer. They are phases not too many mortals can even contemplate and, indeed, as recently as six months ago Federer likely was not contemplating that it could happen again.
“Reaching No. 1 is one of, if not the ultimate achievement in our sport.Sometimes in the beginning you just all of a sudden get there, just because you’re playing so well. Later, you sometimes try to fight it back, you wrestle it back from somebody else who deserved to be there,” Federer said.
“And when you’re older, you feel you have to put in maybe sometimes double the work in. So this one maybe means the most to me throughout my career. Getting to No. 1 and enjoying it at 36, almost 37 years old is an absolutely dream come true. and I can’t believe it.”
Going for title No. 97
Meanwhile, the tournament is not over.
Federer is in the semifinals, and will meet lucky loser Andreas Seppi. He is 13-1 against the Italian, the only loss coming at the 2015 Australian Open.
He should be all right, unless he “parties like a rock star” Friday night. He’ll also get the benefit of another night match, under the roof as well (!!!!).
If Federer wins that, he would face the winner of a match between David Goffin of Belgium (6-1, with the Belgian winning the last one, in the semifinals of the ATP Tour Finals in London last November) and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria (6-0).
Roger Federer must be feeling really good physically, after winning his 20th Grand Slam title just 10 days ago at the Australian Open.
He is headed to Rotterdam next week to play in the ATP Tour 500 event there.
“The tournament is special for me. I remember playing for the first time in 1999 as it was one of the first events where I got the chance to play at the highest level. It feels good to join in the celebrations of the 45th edition,” Federer said on his website.
There had been negotiations with the 500 event in Dubai, which takes place the following week. Federer, who has a training base there, played that event every year from 2011 through 2015, and returned last year after winning in Melbourne.
That turned out not to be his best move; he lost to No. 116 Evgeny Donskoy. But he quickly righted the ship by winning both Indian Wells and Miami a few weeks later.
Federer played Rotterdam early in his career, from 1999 through 2005 before the Dubai money kicked in, and he was reluctant to play back-to-back weeks.
He returned to the Netherlands in 2012 and won it, beating Juan Martin del Potro in the final. Federer was back in 2013 to defend his title, but lost to Julien Benneteau in the quarterfinals. And this is his first trip since then.
The trip to Rotterdam all but assures Federer won’t play Dubai, with the two major events in the U.S. coming up so soon afterwards.
The fascinating thing about this addition to Federer’s schedule (beyond what bank Rotterdam may have robbed in the process) is that the No. 1 ranking is in play earlier than anticipated.
The race for No. 1 is on
Federer is just 155 points behind Rafael Nadal in the race for top spot.
If he reaches the Rotterdam semis, and banks the 180 points that go with that, he would overtake the No. 1 ranking for the first time since Oct. 29, 2012.
A little extra cushion on that is that Nadal, who next plans to play the ATP Tour 500 event in Acapulco at the end of the month, is defending 300 finalist’s points there.
The oldest man to hold the No. 1 ranking remains Andre Agassi, who was 33 years old when he did it in 2003. Federer turns 37 in August.
Leave it to Federer to add a little intrigue out of nowhere.
Federer taking a late wildcard into Rotterdam in a surprise attempt to time trial to the #1 ranking is the true meaning of sabr.
Right here, we’re calling for the draw gods to have the Australian Open champion draw Canadian teenager Félix Auger-Aliassime in the first round. Call it the May-December, August 8 Special, as the two share that birthday.
Auger-Aliassime, who is playing a Challenger event in Budapest this week, was given a wild card and will make his ATP Tour main draw debut there.
MELBOURNE, Australia – The moment Marin Cilic missed his final return in the fifth set, Roger Federer burst into tears.
His moment of triumph was delayed, as often happens these days, by one final, futile Hawkeye challenger.
But the deed was done. The 36-year-old from Switzerland had won the Australian Open men’s singles title, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
Federer held it together fairly well during the trophy presentations, until the end, When he thanked his team and his family, he lost it again.
The crowd roared.
And every time Federer thought it was over, the noise of the ovation would swell up again, and the tears would swell in Federer’s eyes again.
Federer has shed tears on this court before. Back in 2009, they were tears of defeat, when longtime rival Rafael Nadal had to comfort him when he just couldn’t hold them back.
Last year, they were tears of unexpected joy.
This year, they may well have been tears of relief after stressing himself into a frenzy for 36 hours before the match.
Which didn’t make that moment any less special, or any less impressive.
No. 20, and a successful defense
It is the 20th Grand Slam title of Federer’s career. That puts him four ahead of Nadal, and eight ahead of Novak Djokovic. He successfully defended a major title for the time since he won back-to-back US Opens a decade ago, in 2007 and 2008.
A decade later, Federer has practically made time stand still. His brand of tennis remains a champion’s brand still.
Federer had help. What looked early on to be a rout – “I got off on a flyer, which was great,” he said – became an intense battle for a significant length of time. Cilic found his rhythm and refused to bow. Federer’s thoughts got the better of him.
“I just think I froze in the tiebreak, end of the second. I just think I got really nervous. And then it got to be a match, it got tight. I think Marin helped me out in the third and in the fifth to stretch the lead a little bit. I couldn’t stop the bleeding almost. It was terrible. He was in control. He was the one calling the shots all of a sudden,” Federer said during one of his myriad post-match television interviews.
“My mind was all over the place. ‘I’m so close right now. Don’t mess it up.’ It always happens, and it’s crazy. I had to get lucky, to be quite honest, at the beginning of the fifth. I personally don’t think I’ll come back if he breaks me first. But crazier things have happened – like last year.”
A year ago, Federer was down 1-3 in the fifth set to Nadal, down and almost out, and came back to win. This time, Cilic was down 1-3 in the fifth set. But he couldn’t manage to duplicate the feat.
Cilic vs. Federer – and 15,000 FedFans
He was a worthy runner-up, a classy competitor who persevered despite the almost unilateral support inside Rod Laver Arena for his opponent.
It’s hard to even fathom how quiet it would have been in there, had the Croat found the path to victory.
When it got to a fifth set, Cilic actually had a superior record. He was 27-12 going in; Federer was 29-20. But as a former champion once said, the fifth set isn’t about tennis.
“Well, momentum was on my side from 3-2 or even 3-1 in that fourth set. I came back, won the set 6-3. Plus it was all games that I deserved and earned really well. I played great tennis, started to return really good,” Cilic said. “That first game of the first set, putting a lot of pressure, four break points, I went for my shots and didn’t make them.”
A testy test of nerves
Both players were on short fuses. Early on in the match, Cilic was fretting about the string tension in his rackets. He sent numerous sticks out for restringing and angrily, almost in a panic, gestured at his box about the situation.
For his part, Federer was snarky with one linesman on a call. And he was an absolute cranky pants with chair umpire Jake Garner about making sure he reminded him when they were about to change to new tennis balls.
“Talk to me, talk to me, remind me,3-0 in the fifth, I can’t do it all by myself,” he told Garner.
Federer said the 7:30 p.m. start for the final was the worst thing in the world. It gave him all those extra hours to think about the match, debate himself about the likely outcome, overthink every little thing.
Long day’s journey into 20
“I think my thoughts were all over the place all day. I was thinking, what if I lost, what if I won, every minute of the day. Thank God I slept until 11. Imagine if I woke up at 7 and was up 12 hours before the match,” he said.
“I think I was going through the whole match like this. I’ve had these moments in the past, but maybe never as extreme as tonight. Getting to 20 is obviously very, very special, no doubt.”
He likened the feeling after it was over to the 2006 final against Marcos Baghdatis.
“I had a great run to the finals, was a huge favourite going in. Keeping my composure. The matches weren’t emotional going to the finals but I felt so relieved when it was done,” he said.
Just like Sunday night.
“That’s why I couldn’t speak. It was terrible … When I start thinking about what I was going to say, every subject I touch actually is very meaningful and very emotional. Thanking your team, congratulating Marin, thanking the people, thanking the tournament. … But I hoped over time in the speech I would start to relax a little bit, but I couldn’t,” Federer said.
“It was what it was. I wish it wasn’t so sometimes. At the same time I’m happy I can show emotions and share it with the people. If I got emotional, it’s because it was a full crowd again. (Having) no people in the stadium wouldn’t make me emotional, I’ll tell you that. This is for them really also.”
Federer didn’t even notice the legendary Rod Laver taking video of him bawling on his iPhone. “I didn’t even see it happening because I was crying too much,” he said. “I couldn’t lift my head. And I was just too embarrassed. It was terrible.”
20 Slams? Not terrible
This was Federer’s sixth title in Australia, tied with Roy Emerson and Djokovic for most all time. He has eight Wimbledons, five US Opens (tied for most in the Open era) and that one French Open in 2009.
At this point, there seems to be no end in sight. Because Federer has everything in place.
“I think by not overplaying, not playing every tournament possible. I enjoy practice. Not minding the travel. Having a great team around me, they make it possible. At the end it’s seeing that my parents are incredibly proud and happy that I’m still doing it. They enjoy coming to tournaments. That makes me happy and play better,” he said.
“Then, of course, my wife who makes it all possible. Without her support, I wouldn’t be playing tennis no more since many years … I’m happy that she’s super supportive, and she’s willing to take on a massive workload with the kiddies. Same for me, because I wouldn’t want to be away from my kids for more than two weeks. This life wouldn’t work if she said no. Many puzzles need to fit together for me to be able to sit here tonight.”