Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Breaking Down Federer’s Draw as He Aims for a Third Title in Rotterdam

Breaking Down Federer’s Draw as He Aims for a Third Title in Rotterdam

The biggest indoor tournament of the ATP season so far has already kicked off in Rotterdam. Day One saw a smattering of upsets, the most significant being Jo-Wilfred-
Tsonga’s loss to Igor Sijsling. That means that the man who pushed Roger Federer to five memorable sets at the Australian Open last month will not face the Swiss in the
semi-finals in Rotterdam, depriving fans of a mouth-watering match-up but easing the top seed’s path to a successful title defence.

Since the inaugural event in 1972, only one man - Arthur Ashe - has triumphed three times in the Netherlands’ second city. Federer has one of the greatest indoor records in the history of the sport, and he is favourite to lift the trophy in the Ahoy Rotterdam on Sunday afternoon. Victory would mark the 77th singles title of his career, and put paid to any further suggestion that his game is in decline.

Federer’s route to last eight in Rotterdam looks straightforward enough. An opening match against 64th-ranked Grega Zemlja should pose few problems, and Federer has
schooled his likely second round opponent, Mikhail Youzhny, throughout his career. In nine meetings with the Russian, Federer has lost only one set, and it would be a huge upset if Youzhny were to turn the tables this week.

Federer was seeded to face the big-serving giant Jerzy Janowicz in the quarter-finals, but the Pole lost to Romania’s Victor Hanescu on Monday. While Hanescu is capable of winning another round, it seems more likely that Federer will face a Frenchman in the last eight, either Michael Llodra or Julien Benneteau. Llodra, currently ranked 51, is one of the wiliest competitors on tour, and although he has never beaten Federer, is in good from, having upset Janko Tipsarevic in Montpellier last week.

Benneteau, on the other hand, has got the better of Federer before, and on indoor courts, when he edged the Swiss in the 2009 Paris Masters. At Wimbledon 2012, the
world number 39 was famously just a few points away from ending Federer’s campaign, after racing to a two-sets-to-love lead. Should he face Federer in Rotterdam, Benneteau will fully believe he can win. Doing so is another matter, of course, but that quarter-final would be fun to watch.

Tsonga’s surprising loss leaves his compatriot Gilles Simon as the highest seed in the second section of the draw. The world number 14 has an excellent chance to reach the semi-finals, provided he can manage what Tsonga couldn’t and find a way past Sijsling. If he does get there, an encounter with Federer will be highly anticipated.
Simon has caused the Swiss more trouble than most players in recent years; in fact, he won the pair’s first two meetings back in 2008, with stunning victories in Toronto and Shanghai. In their only other completed match, Simon stretched Federer to five sets at the Australian Open in 2011. If the top seed has an “off-day” during their potential semi-final clash, the über-consistent, counter-punching Simon has a real shot at scoring the upset.

However, assuming that Federer does reach his fourth final in Rotterdam, who will he face? The bottom half of the draw features several big-name players, headed by second seed Juan Martin Del Potro. At the beginning of the year, the Argentine was hotly tipped to return to his Grand Slam-winning ways, having finally recovered from the wrist injury that derailed his 2010 and 2011 seasons. But he flopped down under, losing to Jeremy Chardy in the third round in Melbourne. Can he recapture his best form this week? If he can, he will be Federer’s biggest stumbling block. Although the 17-time Grand Slam champion beat Del Potro in the Rotterdam final in 2012, Delpo beat Federer twice on indoor courts at the end of the season, holding his nerve impressively to win three-set battles in Basel and London.

Del Potro has a tough route to the final, starting with an intriguing first round match against Gael Monfils. But based on current form, the player most likely to derail the 2009 US Open champion’s bid is yet another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet. Gasquet has quietly risen to fourth in the ATP Race rankings, after becoming the first man to win two titles in 2013 with victories in Doha at the beginning of the season and in Montpellier last week. Coming into Rotterdam with a 14-1 win-loss record, the world number 10 will be favoured to emerge from a tricky quarter of the draw that includes Benoit Paire, Marcos Baghdatis, Grigor Dimitrov and Nikolay Davydenko.

Should he go on to defeat Del Potro in the last four, a Gasquet-Federer final would showcase two of the most gifted players of the last decade. Gasquet’s trademark
flair and precision groundstrokes, combined with Federer’s peerless shotmaking and elegance, would offer fans a sterling exhibition of men’s tennis.

For all the talk of Roger Federer no longer being the force he was, it is very rare to see him lose to players he is supposed to beat. With Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray absent from Rotterdam, the Swiss will be expected to march to victory.
While he faces a stern test from the ensemble of aforementioned Frenchman, all signs point to Federer being anointed champion for a record-equalling third time.

Written by Steven Webb from Livestreamingsport.com.