Pro-Federer crowd boos as Zverev reaches London final

Until that moment – a key moment in the ATP Tour Finals semi between Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev – the decidedly pro-Federer crowd at the O2 had mostly behaved itself.

There were a few cheers here and there when Zverev missed a first serve on key points.

But it was ably kept under control by veteran chair umpire Carlos Bernardes, who has been around the “home-crowd” phenomenon block a time or 10.

But then, with the German serving at 3-4 in the second set tiebreak, and Federer taking control of the point, it got a little cruel.

And the result was a tough, tough moment for Zverev, whose diffidence and confidence often belie his tender years, but who at heart is just a kid still trying to navigate his way among the greats of the game.

Zverev
There was no mistaking the hindrance as the ballboy tried to collect an errant ball. Zverev saw it, while chair umpire Carlos Bernandes was following the flight of the ball.

A ballboy at the back of the court lost control of a ball during the point, and it rolled into the field of play. He probably should just have let it roll, until Bernardes – or even Federer himself – saw it and stopped the point. But he tried to sneak into the court, unobtrusively, to collect it.

Zverev saw him and immediately stopped play.

The boos rained down upon Zverev, who was well within his rights to stop the point. But he was taking a risk in doing so.

A few minutes later, after Zverev had sealed the win with a bravura performance against a fairly in-form Federer, he heard a few boos again.

It wasn’t a huge portion of the crowd. But it was evident, and loud enough.

The rest of the crowd – the more knowledgable tennis fans, who grasped the situation and didn’t let their emotions rule – quickly began to cheer to try to drown it out.

Zverev apologizes to crowd

Zverev
Zverev’s relief and excitement at beating his idol on such a big occasion was quickly replaced by confusion and emotion when the crowd booed him.

Emotional as he reached the biggest final of his young career, Zverev didn’t quite know what to make of it at first.

Then, he quickly realized why the fans were booing.

And he immediately addressed the crowd during his on-court interview with Annabel Croft.

“First I want to apologize for the situation in the tiebreak. The ballboy dropped the ball, so it’s in the rules that we have to replay the point,” said Zverev, who added that Federer accepted his apology at the net.

Croft then lectured the crowd. That, of course, is not in her job description – not that she was wrong.

“I’m not sure why you’e all booing, because he’s telling the truth. The ballboy did move across the court, and it disrupted play. And those are the rules,” she told them. “I think you have to be a little more respectful.”

Even the tournament director weighed in.

“Obviously a lot of Roger fans here”

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Zverev apologizes to Federer at the net after his win, something Federer said later was completely unnecessary.

Zverev was clearly upset. The look on his face – equal parts emotion, confusion, and hurt – wasn’t something we’ve seen from him. But there can’t be too many worse feelings  than being blamed by 15,000 fans for something that’s not your fault.

The crowd paid copious pounds for their seats. So if they’re thus inclined, they can cheer for one player and root against another. But when it happens, it still goes against that admittedly thinning veneer of sporting fan behaviour that still coats the game.

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The looks on the faces of Federer’s wife Mirka an mother Lynette pretty much summed up the state of affairs late in the match.

You know this wouldn’t have happened at the All-England Club, even with Federer playing.

But this is a different crowd – more of an event crowd, less awed by the surroundings and the tradition.

The German completely understood the situation he found himself.

More than a “true Brit”

In London, Federer is almost more than a true Brit. He’s like a “super Brit”. Many of the tennis fans in that city probably embrace him more than they do their own because of his reverence for – and success at – The Championships.

“I understand the frustration. It’s just unfortunate circumstances. These things happen. Booing, I never like it. We see it in other sports all the time, but in tennis it’s rare. So when it happens, it gets very personal and we take it very direct,” Federer said afterwards.

“Sascha doesn’t deserve it. He apologized to me at the net. I was like, ‘Buddy, shut up. You don’t need to apologize to me here. … So he shouldn’t be apologizing. He didn’t do anything about it. He just called it how it was, and he felt it affected play. There is a rule that if something like this happens, obviously you replay points.”

More apologies from Zverev

What a learning moment for the young star.

He had to process beating his friend, mentor and idol on such a big occasion. And then he had to deal with a wholly unexpected situation.

He did so with impressive maturity and not an insignificant amount of grace. In the end (and it doesn’t hurt that he won), he’ll be a better competitor for it.

“I want to apologize to the crowd, obviously there’s a lot of Roger fans here. As he deserves. From what he’s achieved and what kind of guy he is, he should have the most fans in the world. In London especially, how much history he has here,” Zverev said. “The crowd has been amazing. The crowd has been absolutely fair the whole match. Again, I’m very sorry that this happened. I didn’t mean to upset anybody.  That’s all I can say, Sorry.”

When he came into his post-match press conference, Zverev admitted that the situation shook him up a little.

“I was very emotional afterwards. The booing went into cheering kind of afterwards, which kind of helped me, as well. Obviously a lot of emotions going on through my head. I was really upset afterwards in the locker room, as well. I’m not going to lie. I had to take a few minutes for myself,” he said.

Risky move by Zverev

There was no major fault to Bernardes for not spotting the wandering ballboy. The chair umpire is following the ball in play, not the one in the ballboy’s hands. Often they see these things. But sometimes they don’t.

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Federer asked the ballboy if he had, indeed, caused a hindrance. Poor kid owned up to it.

As with anything else that happens on court, in a sport lacking the oversight of an extra official on the sidelines as a spotter for any unusual issues, if the umpire doesn’t see it, he might well not call it.

And if he doesn’t see it, he might not order up the point to be replayed.

Zverev would have had no recourse in that situation. In this case, having stopped play, he would have lost the point and been down a crucial mini-break, at 3-5 in that second-set tiebreak.

‘I’m not questioning Sascha’s sportsmanship in any way. Like I said before, it’s a bold move by Sascha to stop the rally because the umpire can just say, ‘Sorry, buddy, you’re in the rally. I don’t care. You lost the point. I didn’t see it’.

“It was just totally an umpire’s decision with the ball kid and the lines person, as well, just making sure they got the facts right” he added. “I don’t know what the rule says. I always thought it was an umpire’s decision, not a player’s decision. In practice we stop rallies all the time when balls come flying from the second court.”

Getting it right the priority

Bernardes did the right thing.

Given he didn’t see it, if we apply the protocol for an unofficiated match to this situation, either player can call a let and stop play when a ball rolls onto the court. 

ZVerevThe only case where you wouldn’t would be if the player waited too long to call it – i.e., waited until he or she was in a convincingly losing position, or even after they lost the point. Zverev called it immediately.

Bernardes’s priority was getting it right.

He asked the line umpire over in that corner to confirm what happened. And it was confirmed.

Federer, who by then had gone up to the chair to get an explanation, asked the ballboy (who was back to his position near the net) to confirm it. The kid nodded. And Federer accepted it.

And so the Swiss went back to receive serve again. He got a good first serve back (Zverev averaged 135 mph on his first serve Saturday). But that one was called a let.

On the third try, Zverev hit an unplayable ace out wide, clocked at 137 mph.

Three times unlucky for Federer

‘I mean, it’s a very difficult call. I didn’t see it. The umpire didn’t see it. But, you know, once the ball boy said that’s what happened, linesman confirmed, the umpire believes them, which is obviously true, what is there to be done? It’s normal to replay the point from that point on,” Federer said.

“It was obviously a big call. Instead of being in the rally in a decent position, you get aced, yes, it makes a difference. It could have made a difference. That’s all hypothetically speaking now, at this point.”

It was bad luck – three times – for Federer on a crucial point. But that’s the sport.

If it seems as though it always happens in crucial situations, that’s probably because when it happens at 1-1, 15-15 in the first set, we quickly forget.

In the end, Federer didn’t play badly, But Zverev played a virtuoso match. He went 9-for-10 at the net in the second set, and closed out the victory with a swinging backhand volley winner.

“I’m unbelievably proud. Me and my team have been working so hard for this,” Zverev said. “I’m a little upset now about the whole situation, how it all ended.  Because it’s not how I wanted it to end.”

He’ll play the winner of Saturday night’s semifinal between the unbeatable-looking Novak Djokovic and his opponent in the Wimbledon final earlier this year, Kevin Anderson.

“I played Novak a few days ago, and it didn’t go too well for me. I don’t hope he’ll lose, but a slight preference maybe in the opponents,” Zverev said. “But it’s the finals, so I’m just happy to be here.”

(All screenshots from TennisTV.com)

Mid-tournament, little Federer comment on Benneteau

Roger Federer will be fighting to make the weekend Thursday when he plays Kevin Anderson at the ATP Tour Finals.

So he had little reaction Tuesday night when asked, after an impressive victory over Dominic Thiem and a fair preamble, to comment on the radio show chat that had him as the central topic.

I know about the comments, yeah. But I don’t really feel in the mood during a World Tour Finals to discuss that topic, to be honest. In all fairness, I hope you understand why. Because this is a bit of a celebration for tennis. For me it’s the year-end finale. I love playing here,” Federer said after the 6-2, 6-3 victory over Thiem.

The quick win allayed speculation about Federer’s health and mindset, in the wake of the desultory defeat to Nishikori Sunday.

“The radio interview that happened over a week ago that surfaces now, in French, Julien – who is a nice guy, I know him since the junior times – I think all of this has been totally taken out of context,” he added. “I don’t feel like I need to comment on this. I’d rather put it to rest rather than adding to it so you guys get something to write about.”

French radio show lifts the veil on Federer

You ask, sometimes you don’t get

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Federer agent Tony Godsick, courtside for Federer’s match, has not had any comment so far on the comments of Federer contemporary Julien Benneteau (TennisTV)

Federer did point out that he, and agent Tony Godsick, often are asked about his scheduling preferences. And sometimes, he’s told that certain markets have asked him to play at certain times.

“I get asked, ‘Would you like to play Monday or Tuesday’ sometimes. Sometimes I get asked, ‘Do you want to play day, or night?’ Sometimes they go ask the agent. And sometimes they ask me, you know, ‘Asia wants you to play at night’. Yes, sometimes we have our say,” Federer said.

“But I asked to play Monday at the US Open. I played Tuesday night. It’s all good, you know. I’ve had that problem for 20 years in the good way. Sometimes I get help, sometimes I don’t.  Yeah, sometimes they come ask, sometimes they don’t,” he added. “But a lot of the facts are not right, just to be clear there, from what I heard.”

Thiem struggles with hard-court tactics

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Nishikori struggled against Federer before pulling it together. Against Kevin Anderson Tuesday, it took him a full hour before he even won a single game – thus staving off a double bagel. (TennisTV)

If Federer and Nishikori both played horribly in the first set of their round-robin opener, that match eventually got better.

On Tuesday, Thiem appeared unsure as to what strategy to use on the indoor hard court.

Nothing really worked. And one thing’s for sure, his efforts to move forward and take the net did not pay dividends.

That the loss to Federer ended on a makeable forehand volley that went impressively awry sort of summed up the Austrian’s evening.

Australian Open’s Tiley addresses Fed fallout

Thiem now is 0-2, with one more round-robin match against Kei Nishikori remaining.

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Federer reminded himself that he was lucky to be in London playing in November, and tied to turn his negative attitude around. (TennisTV)

“Feels good, I’m very happy that I showed a reaction after last match against Kei. No match is easy here, and maybe something I’m not that used to, to lose and come back and play again. But it was a good exercise, great challenge for me,” Federer said on court after his win.

“I’m happy with my attitude, and happy with how I played. And it was good fun playing against Dominic.”

Turning his frown upside down

Federer admitted he got very negative against Nishikori, mostly because of the quality of his play in the opening set.

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Federer was uber-grumpy during the Nishikori match. A code violation for firing a ball into the stands was, while not a weekly feature in 2018, hardly a rare occurrence. Notably, he changed his shorts on Tuesday. Perhaps it was that fashionable piping on the bottom. (TennisTV)

“Against Kei it was 4-4 the first set. And we were both playing very, very badly. We can’t play much worse than that. But instead of seeing it positive, I saw everything quite negative. Just, I guess, one of those days sometimes where you wake up, you feel good, but you can’t come out and produce what you’re maybe used to,” Federer said. “But it happens, and Kei actually played very well at the end, played a great breaker. As we both picked up our  games, he had a better attitude, and just played a little bit better.

“Today I was more positive, more happy on the court. I love playing here in London. I reminded myself of what a privilege it is playing in the O2, and I hope it showed a little bit,” he added.

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(Screenshots from TennisTV.com)

Australian Open’s Tiley addresses Fed fallout

As expected, the comments from retired French player Julien Benneteau on a radio talk show last week have elicited major reaction.

The main topic was the preferential treatment accorded to the game’s biggest star. And the reactions have predictably fallen along partisan lines.

What is this, American politics or something?

Benneteau, along with French journalist Eric Salliot and show host Sarah Pitkowski (a former player) made waves in offering their opinions about the Federer phenomenon.

They also went into the amount of money in appearance fees, and the inherent conflict of interest in an international Grand Slam federations also investing in the Federer/Team 8 exhibition Laver Cup.

(The group didn’t bring up that the USTA also has invested in the Laver Cup. But that’s also a fact).

French radio show lifts the veil on Federer

Federer was a no-show for his scheduled practice at the O2 Monday. And agent Tony Godsick has not responded to various requests for comment. It’s going to be a challenge for them to duck the issue, even if the off-season is nearly upon us.

But the man in the middle of all the talk, Tennis Australia CEO and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley, issued a lengthy statement Tuesday.

Tiley: Player preferences, injury concerns

Bigger, better Australian Open kicks off

“When looking at a schedule in tennis, there are so many factors that demand any tournament director’s consideration. The players and fans are obviously at the forefront.

“But even within those groups there are many and varied requirements. These can range from player preferences, injury or general fitness concerns to general broadcast preferences or a major broadcaster’s own program needs for their particular market.

“On top of that there is another layer of considerations. That includes operational logistics requiring the scheduling team to have to make estimations on the likely length and outcome of matches (sometimes days in advance) to the everyday considerations of dealing with changing weather conditions.”

Tiley: “Australia’s favorite athlete”

“In terms of players and their appeal, it needs to be said that Roger Federer is a once-in-a-generation player widely regarded as one of the biggest ‘box office’ athletes in the world.

“He has been regularly voted Australia’s favourite athlete. The fans demand his appearance in the big stadiums and our broadcasters naturally want his matches to air in prime time. And I don’t think there’s a tournament director in the world who’s not going to take those factors into account when setting the schedule. This is the case with all the big names in tennis, and in sport in general.”

“Best experience for all the players”

“We also make no secret about working hard to provide the very best experience for all the players at the Australian Open. And we will continue to do this. Because we want players to love our sport, our event and get appropriately rewarded.

“We put significant resources into looking after all of them and making the Australian Open, and Melbourne, one of their very favourite places to be. We’ve prided ourselves on really listening to the players and taking into account their needs and priorities. Whether it’s the way we operate our transport system, the food we serve, the relaxation and training areas we provide and of course, scheduling matches.

“There’s no way we can please everyone all the time. And everyone knows we do everything we can.”

Tiley: “Proud of the Laver Cup”

“Tennis Australia is justly proud of the success of the Laver Cup, in which we certainly have a share, along with the USTA and other partners. It’s been one of the most successful new tennis events in recent times, showing the sport in a new light and attracting new fans.

“I’d say the success of the Laver Cup has been seen as somewhat a ‘disruptor’ to the men’s game. We run our events to the highest standards and reject as well as challenge any claims to the contrary.”

Tennis Australia is an investor in Laver Cup – not Tiley personally, but his employer. And that relates directly to the current power struggle between the ITF (which administers the Slams) and the ATP. The ATP’s smaller fall events are the ones most directly affected by the Laver Cup.

The reality, at least so far, is that while they have invested, they have not profited. We’re told that the first edition of the Laver Cup lost $9 million. This year’s second edition in Chicago reportedly lost $2 million. So beyond the perceived conflict of interest, they are also risking significant dollars.

Laver Cup a multi-pronged venture

For Team 8 to have attempted to create an event like this from scratch without the built-in expertise of Tennis Australia and the USTA, and their investment dollars, would have been prohibitive.

Should they be involved in both? Well, Tennis Australia is involved in the Hopman Cup. That’s an exhibition that competes directly with ATP and WTA Tour events for players during the early season. Management companies such as IMG own and operate several tournaments during the year.

The wild cards handed out at the IMG-owned Miami Open, for example, always have been heavily weighted towards IMG clients. If not current, then prospective IMG clients. IMG client Maria Sharapova generally will chose Shenzhen over the other WTA Tour events that week in January. Her agency owns that tournament.

Novak Djokovic and his family once owned an ATP Tour event in Serbia, and his uncle Goran was the tournament director. Djokovic won it twice.

Those are conflicts, too, like so many other conflicts in tennis. And that’s just a few examples. But Federer did not make the rules. He’s playing by the rules – such as they are.

The ATP’s “World Team Cup” is a go

Benneteau responds

Tiley

“Just to clarify matters, I’m just saying that we have to avoid conflicts of interest as much as we can, to preserve a certain sporting equity. It’s nothing personal against Roger Federer. Because I’m the first to say that he’s the greatest. And he has done, and continues to do an enormous amount for our sport.”

Benneteau said all that during the radio show as well. Of course, that didn’t get the same amount of play.

Tennis is a business

The whole tempest in a teapot has brought to the fore the unfortunate but true fact that tennis is first and foremost a business.

Champagne replaces chardonnay at Oz Open

The top players the fans support are mega-mega millionaires. They are corporations in their own right. Yet tennis fandom is emotional, not practical.  But the players are not playing solely for the love of the game. Nor are they playing for the sole purpose of entertaining you. It’s their livelihood. And it’s a small window of opportunity.

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Many of those dollars come from tournament prize money, which comes from television broadcast rights and high-priced ticket sales and corporate sponsorship.

And the player most coveted by all of those diverse sources of revenue is … Federer.

Pointing this out and not laying the blame on him for what the game has become is not being an apologist. It is stating reality.

If there were another player who brought in more revenue, was more popular and sold more tickets, Federer would be relegated to Court 2 in a heartbeat.

The 37-year-old from Switzeland didn’t ask for this. But he (and his agent) would be fools if they didn’t take advantage of every opportunity presented to them.

Well-established pecking order

The other top players do this as well. They just don’t have quite the same leverage. That’s not to say that Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are not extremely popular. They are.

But Federer – despite being the downside of his illustrious career – takes up the majority of the oxygen in the game. Still now.

When he does jog off into the sunset, there might be more love and money available for the rest. Or maybe not.

Maybe there is a big share of that revenue that came in specifically because of him, and will leave with him. Maybe someone else will come along and capture the global imagination on the same level.

Only time will tell.

Tiley

A weather issue, not a favoritism issue

The big to-do last January with the heat and the scheduling is not a “we prefer Federer” issue, even if the fans and the TV networks do want him for the night session.

TileyIt’s a heat issue.

And it’s a “roof protocol” issue.

Other than these late-season indoor tournaments, tennis  is an outdoor sport.

Wimbledon also has stumbled in its decisions about using the very expensive roof it built over Centre Court. That’s because it considers the tournament an outdoor one. And as much as is practical, it will be played outdoors.

In Australia, there’s a similar mindset. There have been many times in recent years during which the weather conditions were decidedly temperate for mid-summer in Australia. During those years, it’s not been an issue.

This year, there were days in the second week  this wasn’t the case. The tournament stumbled for the Simona Halep – Caroline Wozniacki women’s singles final.  It righted itself for the Federer – Cilic match.

Still, the rules currently in place state that if the retractable roofs are closed because of excessive heat, all play on the outer courts must be stopped.  There are significant consequences to that. Not only does it fail to satisfy the demands of the ticket-buying public. It can affect the integrity and fairness of the tournament schedule as a entity.

We suspect that going forward, the Slams are all going to feel their way to a happy medium on the roof issue. But they well may stumble again before that happens.

Where to draw the line on “fair”

How fair is it for all the players not scheduled for the roofed show courts, if those more blessed can play on? They can then sit back with their match won, and watch as their next opponent is delayed – and perhaps robbed of significant amounts of rest before meeting them in the next round.

So in the end, the issue of “favoritism” is all about where you draw the line about who should be “favored”.

The big Three? The top 10? Seeded players?

Tiley

It’s not a dissimilar argument to being a player scheduled for a court that has the Hawkeye line-calling system, and one that doesn’t. That’s also not fair, even if that issue is less than it used to be.

Somehow, there has never been the same outrage about that.

Or about the fact that seeded players get significantly more advantageous practice-court privileges. They don’t have to share with three other players. They benefit from more quality practice time than the rest.

Where is the outrage about that? 

In the end, from the fan’s perspective, this is a Federer vs. Djokovic and Nadal issue.

(Yes, another one).

And the supporters on each side are going to stand firmly behind their favorites.

But all of this operates in a context within tennis that is rife with conflicts of interest both public and not. No one denies this, but it’s unlikely to change any time soon.

French radio show lifts the veil on Federer

France’s Julien Benneteau is wrapping up a long career.

And so, the 36-year-old veteran is well past holding back. And on a French radio show last weekend, he let loose during a startlingly open discussion about conflicts of interest in tennis – notably the ones revolving around Roger Federer.

The story is on the RMC Sport website, written by journalist Eric Salliot off a very spirited debate he participated in on the radio network’s Grandes Gueules du Sport talk show last Sunday.

Former French player Sarah Pitkowski is one of the hosts.

These are issues that don’t go unnoticed by anyone. But the players rarely are this open about them. No one wants to get on Federer’s bad side.

As Benneteau points out, Federer is a legend of the game, an icon. As he put it, he’s the only one who could attract 15,000 people to Bercy (where the Paris Masters was played last week) at 10 a.m., if they scheduled him that early.

“If he makes all that money off the court, it’s because outside the court he does an incredible job. In Basel, he spends an hour an a half on the court for his match. But after that, he spends 2-3 hours with the partners, with other people,” Benneteau added. “In tennis, The Samprases and Agassis didn’t do all that.”

But …

Laver Cup conflicts

Benneteau said that in the wake of Federer, his management company, and agent Tony Godsick creating the Laver Cup, the conflicts of interests were numerous.

Benneteau

“He has every right to organize an event. But in the middle of the season, it could hasten the demise of some ATP tournaments,” Salliot said, referring to the events in Metz, France and St. Petersburg, Russia that compete directly with the exhibition event.

“And no one said anything. One doesn’t say anything to Roger Federer,” he added.

More notably, when the Davis Cup changes were voted in, Benneteau said Federer didn’t say boo about the late November date that was an issue for so many.

November Davis Cup, September Laver Cup – for good?

But when the players objected and the organizers realized that they wouldn’t get the players with those dates, and then decided they wanted to move it to September after the US Open, then Federer spoke up.

“That’s where I find the international tennis bodies incredibly weak. With all that Federer is, okay. But it’s an exhibition, his thing. The Laver Cup has no sporting legitimacy.  There are no sporting criteria with the selections. There are no ATP points. It’s just financial, Benneteau said. “Because he gives Nick Kyrgios $750,000 to come and play matches that don’t count, the guys say, ‘Okay, those are the rates for the Laver Cup.’ “

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It was definitely worth Nick Kyrgios’s while to travel to Chicago for Laver Cup. Newly-retied player Julien Benneteau said the Aussie’s appearance fee was $750,000)

Scheduling in the heat

Benneteau also pointed out the conflict of interest in having Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley involved in the management of the Laver Cup.  

“He’s the Australian Open tournament director. And on some level, the man is paid by Roger Federer’s agent for the Laver Cup. Over the last two Australian Opens, (Federer) played 14 matches, because he was champion and finalist. And he played 12 or 13 of his 14 matches in the night session,” Benneteau said.

(Benneteau was accurate; Federer played 6-of-7 matches during the night session both in 2017 and 2018. And he played all of his matches on Rod Laver. In 2017, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal playing on the same day, while Federer (seeded No. 17) and No. 1 seed Andy Murray battled it out for the best slots. I

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It was so hot on court when Djokovic and Monfils played their second-round match in Australia this year, Monfils had to put his shoes down on a towel so as not to burn his feet.

n 2018, returning as defending champion, Federer and Djokovic – who would soon have elbow surgery and whose ranking was down to No. 14, but who was the six-time champion – had to duke it out. Djokovic played two of his four matches on Margaret Court Arena).

“On the same day, Federer played Jan-Lennard Struff – I have nothing against Struff, great guy – Novak Djokovic played Gaël Monfils. We’re agreed that on paper, any tournament director  would put Djokovic-Monfils on night session at 7:30 p.m., right?” Benneteau added. “But no. They played at 2:30 p.m., in 104 degrees. And Federer-Struff played at night.”

Federer
Djokovic said the conditions for his second-round match against Gaël Monfils in Australia this year were right on the limit. In contrast, Federer had much cooler conditions against Jan-Lennard Struff.

 Wimbledon favoritism

At Wimbledon this year, the weather also played a major role. And again, as Salliot writes, eight-time champion Federer was prioritized over Djokovic.

On July 9, Djokovic defeated Karen Khachanov on No. 1 Court almost in the dark.  It was a match that likely would have been postponed, had the previous match between Monfils and Kevin Anderson gone to the fifth set.

“There’s one player who has issues with Federer getting preferential treatment. And that’s Djokovic,” Salliot said on the radio show.

“At Wimbledon, Djokovic was fed up with systematically being scheduled on Court 1. After his fourth round, in the press conference, he rocked the boat. For the quarterfinals, the organizers moved Federer to Court 1, because they felt almost obligated. What happened? (Federer) lost.”

The Swiss was beaten, 13-11 in the fifth set by Anderson, after having had match point. 

Men’s quarters spark court assignment debate

No Armstrong for Federer

While Federer downplayed the Wimbledon court assignment in press after his loss to Anderson, Benneteau is convinced that he was not happy.

And he told this story to back up that conviction.

With the US Open inaugurating the new Louis Armstrong Stadium this year – a huge court, Benneteau added – he heard that Godsick went to the referee’s office before the tournament, basically to tell him that if he was thinking about scheduling Federer on that court, he had another think coming.

First test for Louis Armstrong roof

In the end, Federer played all his matches on Arthur Ashe Stadium. The extreme humidity in there the night he played Aussie John Millman in the fourth round did him in.

“It’s normal that he gets preferential treatment, with everything he’s done,” Benneteau said. “But in some tournaments, there are big differences in the conditions (from court to court). He has no idea what that’s like.”

Federer set against on-court coaching

Pitkowski, a former top-30 French player who is married to French coach Olivier Malcor (Benneteau, Michael Llodra, Nicolas Mahut and Paul-Henri Mathieu, among others), spoke about she considers the undue Federer has on the direction of the game.

“On-court coaching is something that was also considered on the ATP side. But apparently one player banged his fist on the table and said, ‘As long as I’m playing, that’s not going to happen.’ And that’s Federer,” Pitskowski said. “But it goes further. There are things that are not even tried, because Federer is still on the circuit. And that’s troublesome for the development of the game.

“I find it upsetting that he’d have that much of an influence on the development of his sport,” Pitkowski added.

Appearance fees off the charts

Federer
Federer wanted to play Rotterdam this year to try to get back the No. 1 ranking. He did – but at a major price point, according to French journalist Eric Salliot.

Salliot spoke about how the Federer “product”, so to speak, is getting more scarce and more in demand as he gets older. “Every tournament director tries to get Federer in their tournament,” he said.

Salliot also alluded to the recent comments by former Paris Masters director Jean-François Caujolle.

(Caujolle, in an interview with L’Équipe, admitted he was a diehard Federer fan. And, as he tried to cajole (see what we did there?) the Swiss star to come back to Bercy and possibly win it, he spoke to him and his camp about what it would take. They suggested the court was too slow, and to look into the court surface in Vienna as an example of what would be ideal. Caujolle had the court installed, and Federer came back the next year – although he didn’t win).

“He’s very demanding financially”, Salliot said. 

The journalist told the story of the ATP Tour 500 event in Rotterdam early this year, when Federer had an opportunity to get back the No. 1 ranking.

Federer hadn’t entered. So Godsick called up tournament director Richard Krajicek and asked for a wild card. Except, Godsick told Krajicek, the price had gone up. As Salliot tells it, Krajicek told Godsick, “Let me call my bank (which also happened to be the tournament sponsor).

It was handled. Federer won the tournament, and took back the top spot.

Prior to that, Salliot said a similar conversation had taken place with the tournament organizers in Dubai, where it happens Federer is a part-time resident.

In asking for the wild card for the same reasons (Dubai takes place two weeks after Rotterdam), Godsick told them that the price for Federer’s participation was no longer $1 million. It was $2 million.

And Dubai took a pass.

“I heard it was more than that,” Benneteau said.

Nadal out of Paris, Djokovic back at No. 1

The order of play Wednesday in Paris looked pretty box-office.

Roger Federer was to wrap up the day session against Milos Raonic, with No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal opening the night session against countryman Fernando Verdasco.

In the end, fans didn’t get to see either one.

Federer received a walkover from Raonic, who cited a right elbow injury. The Canadian had survived a three-tiebreak victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first ound Tuesday night.

As for Nadal, who hasn’t played since the US Open because of a recurrence of his patella tendonitis, his Paris Masters was over before it began.

The knee seems fine – better than he had anticipated.

But an abdominal injury has popped up in the last few days. And so, he pulled out, replaced by lucky loser Malek Jaziri.

Risk of a abdominal tear

Here’s what Nadal said during a press conference late Wednesday afternoon – the mere announcement of which presaged the worst.

“I arrived here a couple of days ago. As everybody knows, I have been out of competition since the US Open. I come back, and it was great to be here in Paris for a couple of days. And I enjoy it. I feel myself, in terms of tennis, better than what I really thought one week ago,” he said.

“But the last few days I started to feel a little bit the abdominal, especially when I was serving. I was checking with the doctor, and the doctor says it’s recommended to not play. Because if I continue, the abdominal maybe can break, and can be a major thing. And I really don’t want that. It has been a tough year until that moment, in terms of injuries. So I want to avoid drastic things.

“Maybe I can play today. But the doctor says if I want to play the tournament – if I want to try to win the tournament – the abdominal will break for sure. So it would be not fair, and not good for me – for nobody – to go inside the court knowing probably the full tournament will not be possible to play,” Nadal added. “Of course I am not happy, but of course I have to accept and stay positive.”

Djokovic returns to No. 1

With the withdrawal, Novak Djokovic will return to the No. 1 ranking next Monday.

That will be true, regardless of how far he goes into the Paris Masters draw.

He will be the first player to be ranked outside the top 20, and be No. 1 in the same season since Marat Safin in 2000. Safin was as lot as No. 38 that season, before going all the way to the top of the rankings.

Djokovic began the season ranked No. 14 and dropped as low as No. 22 before the French Open. At that point, he was 7,110 points behind Nadal in the standings.

Since then, he has returned to full form and has won Wimbledon, Cincinnati, the US Open and the Shanghai Masters. Since Djokovic didn’t play after Wimbledon a year ago because of the ongoing elbow injury for which he had surgery in February, he was able to make up a lot of ground.

Concurrently Nadal, struggling with his knee, dropped points he was defending as the US Open and Beijing champion in 2017.

paris

There may be an element of the precautionary with his, as the ATP Tour Finals begin in less than two weeks. As well, Djokovic is in full form despite seeming a bit under the weather in his second-round win over Joao Sousa in Monday. He had a day off Wednesday to help him recover.

So Nadal was faced with the likelihood that if he wanted to retain the No. 1 ranking for at least one more week – assuming this was a factor at all – he might well have to win the tournament despite Djokovic having the tougher road in the bottom half.

Knowing he wasn’t in a great position to do that and risking tearing the abdominal in the process, Nadal wisely erred on the side of caution.

In addition to Raonic and Nadal, Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics also withdrew from the tournament Wednesday. That gave No. 13 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy a walkover.

So Federer and Fognini will be on even terms when they meet in the third round.

(Screenshots of Nadal from TennisTV)

Federer discloses summer hand injury

As Roger Federer returns to action at his home-town tournament in Basel, longtime Swiss tennis journalist Rene Stauffer of Tages Anzeiger got a (rare) extensive one-on-one interview with the Swiss star.

The occasion was the 20th anniversary of a 17-year-old Federer making his Basel (and ATP Tour) main draw debut.

It’s the 18th actual tournament appearance, as he missed it in 2004, 2005 and 2016.

Federer did point out to Stauffer that it’s actually the 21-year anniversary.

In 1997, he lost in the second round of singles qualifying to Frank Moser of Germany, and in the doubles qualifying (with pal Yves Allegro) to Wayne Arthurs and Sander Groen.

He managed to squeeze that in between Swiss Masters Satellite Tour No. 1, and Swiss Satellite Masters Tour No. 2. (You have to be a longtime tennis fan, or a player getting up there in years, to even remember the “satellite tour” concept).

Hand injury affects summer

There’s plenty of interesting material in the interview (it’s behind a paywall, but completely worth the $2 it costs to surf the site for 24 hours as Stauffer is probably Federer’s most comprehensive career chronicler).

But the notable bit that has been out there already is that Federer reveals he suffered a hand injury at the beginning of he grass-court season.

“I feel that influenced me more than I thought. It went on for about three months. That shouldn’t be an excuse; I don’t want to shout it from the rooftops. But it affected my forehand. I just could not hit it properly, especially in the Halle final and later also at Wimbledon,” he told Stauffer.

Federer said the hand has felt much better since Laver Cup, adding that every time he played, the first 10 minutes were painful.

The mono mystery of 2008

It’s not out of character Federer to disclose an injury only later, when he’s feeling fit again.

He did a similar thing in 2008, when he revealed he had contracted mononucleosis during the early part of the season, including the Australian Open.

It came out in May, during an interview with Paul Newman in the Independent.

“The first time I got sick (before Christmas) I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary,” Federer said. “The second time (before the Australian Open) I thought it was food poisoning. The third time I thought something was wrong. That was when the doctors told me I had mononucleosis, but they said that by then it was almost over,” Federer said.”

Last summer, even if his back issues were visible to anyone paying attention, Federer said this after losing to Alexander Zverev in the Rogers Cup final in Montreal.

“I 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,” he said after the match.

Instead, that day, he gave Zverev full credit for his play.

Zverev both present AND future as he wins Montreal

It was only the next day, announcing he was withdrawing from Cincinnati, Federer confirmed hat he had “tweaked his back” in Montreal.

Cincy a question mark for Federer

Serena vs. Roger highlights Hopman Cup

We’re still nearly three months away.

But the launch of the 2019 Hopman Cup already has targeted the big day: New Year’s Day 2019.

That’s when Team Switzerland takes on Team USA.

And that means that two of the best of all time, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, will square off on court in mixed doubles.

Those are two pretty big gets for the exhibition event, which could well be in its final edition if the new ATP team event starts up, as planned, in 2020.

So if this is the finale, that’s quite a way to go.

Federer will again team up with Belinda Bencic to defend their 2018 title. Williams will pair with young countryman Frances Tiafoe, making his first appearance.

Hopman

Young, attractive field

If the field appears, at first glance, to lack a little star power (having those two legends is already enough), tournament director Paul Kilderry did point out that it includes four Grand Slam singles champions (Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza are the others), three top-10 players (Federer, Zverev, Kerber) and eight top-20 players.

Already announced was the new “it” tennis couple from Greece, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari.

From Great Britain, no Andy Murray or Johanna Konta. Instead, they’ll have the duo of Cameron Norrie and Katie Boulte – an impossibly good-looking combo.

With Muguruza will be … David Ferrer. And you thought the 36-year-old, currently ranked No. 147 and playing a Challenger in Monterrey, was done? Apparently not.

You’d have to think, if he’s going all the way Down Under, that Ferrer plans to play one more Australian Open as well. Perhaps that’s why he’s still out there on the Challenger circuit this week, trying to squeeze into the Melbourne main draw.

Hopman
The 2017 finalists, Switzerland and Germany, return intact this year.

Barty and Ebden for Australia

Hopman
The teaming of brother-sister combo Marat Safin and Dinara Safina was long-awaited in 2009. But big brother celebrated the pairing a little early in a Moscow bar, before heading down to Perth. LEGEND.

Our thinking was that the most glam matchup for the home team would have been the off-field couple, Nick Kyrgios and Ajla Tomljanovic.

It’s always an extra bit of fun when real-life couples play mixed doubles together.

Absent that, they’ve come up with top Aussie woman Ashleigh Barty and 30-year-old Matthew Ebden, who’s ranked fourth in the country behind Kyrgios, young Alex de Minaur and John Millman.

The French team of Lucas Pouille and Alizé Cornet, who won the event in 2014 with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, are in the field.

Kerber and Zverev, last year’s finalists, also team up again and have by far the best combined ranking in the field.

Draws already done

To be able to start promoting Serena vs. the Fed, you had to have the round-robin draw done.

And so it is. Looks like Group B is the tougher group. But only one of those tandems can make the final.

Hopman

Dec. 29 kickoff with the Greeks

The schedule is here. The proceedings kick off with Great Britain vs. Greece on Saturday, Dec. 29 (coming up before you know it).

There is no session on New Year’s Eve evening or on New Year’s Day. The event always has a pretty fantastic New Year’s Eve party – and they definitely have the field to gussy it up.  (Remember when Marat Safin showed up after a rough night back home in Moscow, his face all bruised up?)

Hopman
The Maui Jim pair will team up in Perth, a farewell tour for the 36-year-old Ferrer. (Photo: Madrid Open)

The USA vs. Switzerland tussle will be New Year’s night.

New this year at the event, it’s free kids’ ticket day for all day sessions.

You hope this isn’t really, truly the last-ever Hopman Cup. The event has been around since 1989, when Czechoslovakia’s (!!!) Helena Sukova and Miloslav Mecir defeated Australia’s (!!) … Hana Mandlikova and Pat Cash in the final.

(Mandlikova’s Aussie citizenship didn’t last nearly as long as the event).

Here’s their history roll, with some classic pics.

It’s built up a lovely tradition. And the players seem to have a blast playing it. No doubt this year they’ll have a lovely tribute to Lucy Hopman, the wife of the legendary Aussie coach for whom the event is named. Hopman passed away during the US Open, at the age of 98.

A Florida resident, she made it to Perth every year until 2018, when she was 94.

Progress …

Haggerty-approved

If you wanted to hear from ITF president David Haggerty – the Hopman Cup is under the ITF umbrella – here is his requisite press release quote.

“We are delighted once again to see such a strong entry for the 2019 Mastercard Hopman Cup, the ITF’s mixed team competition, at the start of the new tennis season. The ITF team competitions, which also include Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, give players a special opportunity to represent their countries, one that they value long after their playing days are over,” Haggerty said.

“Hopman Cup also offers fans a unique chance to see some of the game’s biggest names team up to play mixed doubles, which remain some of the most popular matches of the week. I would like to recognize our title sponsor Mastercard, and all the other sponsors and partners who continue to support the Hopman Cup.”

Looks like he got ALL the sponsors covered there. As one does.

November Davis Cup, September Laver Cup – for good?

The tug of war among organizations that run men’s tennis has seemingly just begun.

But in an interview in the Swiss newspaper Blick, longtime Roger Federer agent Tony Godsick appears to shed light on one pressing conflict.

It’s one Godsick says is resolved. But if it is, it’s to the satisfaction of … only a few.

“Gerard Piqué, the organizer and investor, told me that the final week of the Davis Cup will take place in November for the next five to 10 years. In any case, we are sticking to our date,” Godsick told the newspaper.

That’s quite the major tidbit, right there.

And if it’s true, it would have significant implications.

November
To add another interest twist to the smorgasbord, the Laver Cup (Godsick on the far left) is in business with Tennis Australia, which is part of the ITF, which voted no on the Davis Cup changes and which is also working with the ATP to host its own team event in January.

Players – and Piqué – want September

Shortly after the fateful vote at the International Tennis Federation AGM in Orlando, Fla. last August, an article in Le Figaro quoted Piqué about moving the historic November date.

“The final was to take place in November. But after having spoken to most of the players, a large portion prefer the Davis Cup to take place in September. At the end of the day, I hope to put together a competition that fits what they’re hoping for. These are the most important people in the tennis world. Without players, there’s no sport. I’m thinking of Nadal, Cilic, Zverev, Djokovic … etc. All of them prefer September to November,” Piqué told the newspaper.

Notable among Piqué’s player “omissions” was … Federer.

RIP Davis Cup, after 118 years

No Piqué Cup: Federer

The face of the Laver Cup, Federer fired the first warning shot at the US Open. It was a masterpiece of passive-aggressive pecking order proclamation.

“I have not spoken to Gerard Piqué yet. But I admit that it’s a bit odd to see a footballer arrive and meddle in the tennis business. Be careful: the Davis Cup should not become the Piqué Cup,” Federer said.

Godsick has a vested interest in the success of the Laver Cup. (And we don’t believe anybody any more). So we’ll see if Piqué confirms the promise allegedly made in that conversation.

The Telegraph reported that following the vote in Orlando, Federer and Godsick’s management company “rejected a deal which would allow the Davis Cup finals to move from late November to late September, swapping positions in the calendar with the Laver Cup.”

November
Kosmos Tennis’ Piqué poses with ITF president David Haggerty, an American who is … the former president of the USTA. (Photo: Kosmos Tennis)

The Telegraph also reported that, alternatively, Kosmos wanted to move the new Davis Cup finals ahead, to the week after the US Open. That’s the week the semifinals were played this year. But it’s also the week before the Laver Cup. So just as this year (when before his injury, Nadal chose Davis Cup over Laver Cup), that doesn’t eliminate the scheduling conflict.

That idea was “warned off by the United States Tennis Association, which didn’t want another big event competing so closely with its own chief moneyspinner,” the Telegraph reported.

If the November date is indeed a done deal, those players Piqué mentioned will not be happy. And those are players they need to make the “new” Davis Cup a success. The notion that the new event would bow to the Laver Cup exhibition – which involves just 12 top players, not 90 – also may not go over well.

Alexander Zverev notably has stated unequivocally that he won’t take part in any event held in November. Even his love for Davis Cup and playing for his country won’t supersede his need for an offseason.

“No” to November Davis Cup from Zverev

Federer throwing his weight around

From Federer’s tone in that Telegraph interview, it sounded as though he might start throwing his considerable weight around with the game’s other icons, Djokovic and Nadal, to try to sort out this territorial battle. He said that he looked forward to the unusual opportunity at Laver Cup to spend time with Djokovic, whom he doesn’t know nearly as well as Nadal or others, to start that process.

November
Federer and Djokovic played doubles together at Laver Cup. They also were spotted huddled together in conversation on numerous occasions – and probably no talking about their kids.

“I need to really focus on this subject. I know it’s been around a little bit now, it only happened in Cincinnati. But then you have the US Open and then you have vacation and then you have this (Laver Cup),” he said.  “So I think maybe after (the Laver Cup), and maybe throughout Shanghai, I will be able to really focus and dial in on what are all the moving parts. Because it isn’t simple.”

Nadal wasn’t in Chicago, and won’t be in Shanghai. But Federer suggested he could talk to him on the phone.

The back and forth with this will only increase as the proposed new ATP team event becomes more concrete in the next few months.

For now, if Godsick’s claims are true, the Laver Cup has won the first round.

“Djokerer” will premiere Friday at Laver Cup

When the most highly anticipated moment of a three-day tennis event is two top players teaming up in doubles, you know you’re not on the ATP Tour.

And Team Europe won’t make the fans wait too long.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will team up for doubles Friday, the second match of the night session on Day 1 of the Laver Cup.

There was a similar moment a year ago, at the event’s inaugural edition in Prague. The pairing of Federer and Rafael Nadal was probably even more anticipated, as inextricably intertwined as they have been during a decade-long rivalry.

It was a little awkward, as most first-time pairings are – especially involving two players with radically different playing styles.

How will Federer and Djokovic work together – Federer playing forehand, Djokovic on the ad side? 

Doesn’t really matter. It’s the novelty of the thing.

The two have done a good job joshing and kibbitzing and pretending they’re good buddies in the leadup to the event. Although you have to ask the question: have they practiced together this week?

Three singles, then Djokerer

The opening day session Friday will be two singles matches. The first will have Team Europe’s Grigor Dimitrov go up against Team World’s Frances Tiafoe.

That will be followed by Kyle Edmund vs. Jack Sock.

The night session singles match will pit David Goffin against Diego Schwartzman.

It’s not exactly a star-studded lineup, with Dimitrov (at No. 7) the only top-10 player. But on the plus side, there will be an American in each match during the day session.

“He’s player with a lot of potential, a player who in a few years can win a Grand Slam,” Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg said of the 27-year-old Dimitrov.

When you see that night singles match, and take into consideration how much they’re charging for the tickets, they almost had no choice but to bring out the two rock stars for the doubles.

“I did have an inkling they would play – I am surprised they would play the first day,” Team World captain John McEnroe said.

Djokerer will take on Sock and Kevin Anderson.

Ahhhh, memories. Will we Djokerer re-enact this moment?

So it seems Sock, who didn’t play Davis Cup last weekend because of a hip issue, has recovered well enough to play singles during the afternoon and doubles late night.

Of course, having a match tiebreak in lieu of a third set, compared to the best-of-five format on red clay the Americans were facing last week in Croatia, makes it a lot easier.

Stakes get higher through the weekend

The way the exhibition format works is that the matches on the first day are worth one point each. On Saturday, they’re worth two points each and as they get down to serious business during the single session on Sunday, a win will be worth three points.

Djokerer
Team Europe is breaking out its “dream team” on Day 1 of the Laver Cup. If it goes to a sudden-death doubles set on Sunday, they could play again (Pic: Laver Cup website)

Friday night could be the only appearance by Djokerer during the weekend – unless the teams are tied 12-12 in points on Sunday. In that case, one set of doubles would be played to declare the victor, and they could jump back in.

The lineups for the two sessions Saturday will be announced an hour after play finishes on Friday.

If you’re in the Chicago area and are of a mind to catch Djokerer, there have been a few extra seats released.

As of 5:30 p.m EDT, there are seven of the “cheapest” left in the upper deck, at $132 plus all the charges. Another 203 remain in the lower bowl, at either $420+ or … $600.

(The 46 tickets remaining for the finale on Sunday range from $720 to $840, with one ducat tidily priced at  … $1,080).

Humidity does in Federer in loss to Millman

NEW YORK – Roger Federer was disheveled, overheated and a little disgruntled Monday night.

And after the Aussie John Millman played the match of his life, in the match of his career, the former champion is out of the US Open in the fourth round.

Tennis fans who who woke up this morning and saw the 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3) scoreline robably were shocked. If Federer was going to lose in Flushing Meadows, it was surely going to be to Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals, right?

But if they watched any of the match, in which Federer produced a jaw-dropping 76 unforced errors, they wouldn’t be.

Federer said he wasn’t injured. And he didn’t appear to be. He was done in by a factor beyond his control that had affected him very few times in his career: the heat and humidity.

“Was just one of those nights where I guess I felt I couldn’t get air. There was no circulation at all. I don’t know, for some reason I just struggled in the conditions tonight. It’s one of the first times it’s happened to me,” Federer said. “Yeah, it’s uncomfortable. Clearly just keep on sweating more and more and more and more as the match goes on. You lose energy as it goes by.”

Millman, who hails from steamy, humid Brisbane, also was sweating. His black kit was so wet, it was shiny. But after a so-so start where he later said he felt “like a deer in the deadlights”, it rarely showed as he executed a precise, workmanlike game that relies on consistency and dazzling footwork on the baseline.

This was his opportunity. And at age 29, and after all those years spent in tennis’s minor leagues and rehabbing injuries and trying to catch a break, he wasn’t going to let it pass him by.

Should have been up two sets to none

humidity

Nevertheless, Federer was up a set and served for the second set.

But earlier on in that set, a 14 1/2-minute game  in which he missed 18-of-22 first serves (stubbornly continuing to serve to the same spots, unsuccessfully) and saved seven break points was definitely a warning sign.

Federer was up 40-15 on his normally imperturbable serve twice in that set, only to cough it up. He was sweating cupfuls, his hair flopping limply over his Uniqlo headband in a way it rarely does. After the first two sets, his first-serve percentage stood at 36 per cent. Even by the end he never broke 50 per cent, for only the second time ever at the US Open.

“When you feel like that, everything is off … Look, I’ve trained in tougher conditions. I’ve played in the daytime, you know, at 120 (degrees). Some days it’s just not the day where the body can cope with it. I do believe since the roof is on that there is no air circulation in the stadium. I think just that makes it a totally different US Open,” he said. “Plus conditions maybe were playing slower this year on top of it. You have soaking wet pants, soaking wet everything. The balls are in there, too. You try to play. Everything gets slower as you try to hit winners.

“I wish I could have led two sets to love and then maybe the match would be different, you know, and I would find a way, because I did have my chances all the way till the end. It was just tough. I thought John played a great match in difficult conditions,” he added.

Playing your hero, without intimidation

Millman said that he’s not generally a heavy sweater. But he, too, was soaked. Between sets, the ball kids would have to wipe off both baselines after all the dripping.

Federer had a nice smile for Millman at the net. The Aussie was one of the rare veteran players Federer has invited to train with him during tournament prep weeks. And Millman went to Switzerland after losing early at the French Open.

Perhaps that rare opportunity to get to know the man behind the legend worked in the Aussie’s favor a little bit. 

“I look up to him. I really like his team. He’s always been, you know, one of the guys in the locker rooms, we’ll always chat, very approachable. He’s a hero of mine,” he said. “I felt a little bit guilty today because he didn’t have his best day, and that’s for sure. I know that. I’m very aware he didn’t have a great day in the office. Probably to beat him I needed him to have an off day and I needed to have a decent, good day.”

Federer wasn’t the only one to struggle in the heat and humidity Monday, despite the fact that he and Millman played later than anyone else. Djokovic struggled as well. But the Serb got through in straight sets against Joao Sousa.

The sun was long gone by the time Federer and Millman took the court, but it remained stifling. And on this night, Federer’s 37-year-old body couldn’t get on top of it.

humidity

Inexplicable errors by Federer

From 1-0 in the fourth-set tiebreak, Federer made six straight errors. That included back-to-back double-faults on his serve, at 1-2. 

Millman’s match was inspired and clean – 47 winners, 28 unforced errors. Federer’s was a mess, in large part because he went for broke on such a high percentage of the points, trying to end them quickly. The serve-volleying on second serve was a throwback to the 1990s. He pulled out the drop shot more than was prudent in a month’s worth of tough matches, because he lost faith in his groundstrokes so early on.

Federer had 65 winners … and 76 unforced errors. He had 13 aces – but 10 doubles faults (his second-highest total ever in New York). There were some routine volleys on key moments that a more energetic Federer would have crushed by just taking a step or two forward. He couldn’t will his body to take those steps. And he missed alarmingly.

humidityIt has been 10 years since Federer won the US Open. And the logistics were definitely not on his side to break that drought this year, with the visibly slowed-down courts. (Why on earth did they do this, anyway, when it’s always hot and humid here and tough enough on the players?).

No Federer vs. Djokovic

Add in the weather, and a bad day at the office, and an inspired opponent seizing the day. That means that the quarterfinal match between Federer and Djokovic, pointed to since the draw came out 10 days ago, will not happen.

Tickets in the upper tier of Arthur Ashe Stadium Wednesday night, which had been going for $250 on the resale market, had dropped down to $100 by Tuesday morning.

Millman, who was ranked No. 235 a year ago and will be in the top 40 regardless of his result against Djokovic Wednesday, was stoic throughout. When Federer’s last forehand sailed long, he had almost no reaction. He had too much respect for his opponent and assessed the situation with a clear eye. And he’s been through too much to leap up and down as though he’d just won the whole thing.

He took off his sweaty, drippy cap and walked to the net to shake hands. Only for the supporters in his player’s box did Millman have a lopsided smile and a thumb’s up. But only for a moment.

“A couple of shoulder surgeries, a groin surgery. Not so easy. With that you have to start all over again. That’s challenging. It’s challenging financially. It’s challenging physically. And it’s challenging mentally,” he said. 

“But, you know, you do it. And you do all those moments in rehab, you do all that for something like this. It all becomes a little bit more rewarding. I’m just incredibly lucky that I’ve had a great group of people, not just in tennis, but friends and family back home who have helped me stay positive and stay upbeat because there were plenty of moments where I was pretty negative and down on myself.”

At 37, not many major chances remaining

For Federer, the season has been a struggle on a few levels since his impressive run at the Australian Open. Perhaps it all went a bit south when, feeling good physically,  he added the 500-level Rotterdam tournament to his schedule and took back the No. 1 ranking back in February.

The 37-year-old has put a lot of wins up this season. But he’s had some very disappointing losses, some that his younger self would have mercilessly put away in straight sets, but that ended up being disappointments. 

This latest setback, at the Grand Slam he was on some levels pacing himself to do well at through the summer, will be extremely disappointing Had he lost to Djokovic, as he did in the Cincinnati final a few weeks ago, the medicine might not have tasted quite as bitter.

But in 40 previous matches against players ranked out of the top 50 at the US Open, Federer had never lost. Until Monday night.

As he gets towards the end of his career, there are a few too many “firsts” like this. Perhaps there are more to come. But this is how a career winds down – Father Time sort of chips away at it, even as Federer has cheated the old goat for the last few years.

But losing to John Millman in the fourth round of a major? That one is going to sting.