Calm down everyone. I know why you're happy. I know why I'm happy 🙂 But this is only the beginning. I feel now that Roger is legitimately back. Regardless of the result against Djokovic, Roger seems to have solved most of his problems and has laid a solid foundation for 2014. He didn't look like someone who lost three in a row against Del Potro. There was a calmness with which he went about his business, not something you would see from someone who has been owned recently, and not from Roger of late. It is this apsect that gives me real hope for the future. It appeared Del Po might not play at a high level given how much effort he has put in recently and to save himself for London. But he did up his level in the second. It took a ridiculous forehand from Del Po and a couple of loose errors from Roger, under pressure at 4-5, to even up the battle.
Let's talk about how things panned out from 2-2 in the third set. But before that, a quick peek at the numbers. In the first set, Roger won 80% of his second serve points to Del Po's 44% and was rewarded. In the second, Del Po bested him 70% to 57% in that aspect to push it to a third. So, Roger knew what he had to do in the third, take care of his serve. But that's not all. Read on.
In the fifth game, Roger started with a stretched chipped return which immediately paid dividends as Del Po couldn't do much with the approach, and subsequent volley, and allowed Roger to make a scintillating pass. Roger then threw in a slider up the duece line that made Del Po run a country mile on the baseline. The cross court resulted in a beautiful forehand down the line winner. Del Po couldn't take the pressure and dropped serve. We can forgive Roger for giving up the next game as it stared with a joke of a forehand cross court forced winner from Del Po. That's what he does best, goes berserk under pressure or when he senses a chance. However, it was a crucial mistake by Roger that made the difference. He opted for a backhand top spin winner instead of the slider down the line that was so effective in the first set, and was duly broken.
It was back to 3-3 and we were all resigned to that familiar feeling, that Del Po will finish off Roger again. And we will all love Del Po for it. It was good to see Roger try that slider out wide again but he couldn't do much after the set up shot, unable to deal with a hot pass. But Roger persisted, and when stretched on the backhand, lured Del Po in with a soft mid court slice and burned him at the net. That yell from Roger said it all. It showed how much he wanted to win this one, for himself, and for his fans. What does he do again on break point? Another soft sliced cross court which induces an error.
Some of us must be wondering why Roger moved away from guerilla tactics in the second set. Perhaps he didn't want Del Po to get too used to it? Maybe he wanted to win it outright? But he had no choice in the third. It was important he made his move early and that's exactly what he did. Del Po may have a great running forehand but Roger can exploit the big mans mobility on low slices. What surprises me is that Roger offers the most variety to Del Po when compared to say, Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray, yet he has been owned recently. And a lot of it has got to do with Roger's refusal to choose the right shot. He is stubborn. That's exactly why he never really got the better of Nadal because he refused to change his game one bit.
Del Po was now clearly flustered. I fastened my seat belt for the missiles I anticipated Del Po would send Roger's way. I actually liked it that Roger went down the middle on the first point. As expected, Del Po donated two points to Roger with wishful forehands, only this time there really wasn't any conviction in either of them. Fortune favors the brave, but even the braves run out of luck at some point. Roger held. The next game saw Roger fall back to slices, a chip and a charge, and soon it was all over. A much needed victory. A fourth consecutive indoors loss would've been devastating. Roger really got into Del Po's head this time. He can do it again, and again.
In the third set, Roger won 60% of his second serves to Del Po's 33%. That paints a clear picture. Roger came in with a mentality that he will protect his serve and he did a darn good job today. No double faults. Overall, he won 63% of his second serves to Del Po's 48% which is significant. In their previous meetings, Roger has rarely lost a set when having a big edge in that department. It's only when Del Po inches closer to Roger's percentage is when things start going wrong. If they were to meet in London, Roger needs to stick to a similar pattern.
Conclusion: Roger focused on his serve, mixed up slices and drop shots strategically in return games, and the tower of Tandil, all of 6 feet 6 inches, came clumsily crumbling down. It's up to Roger now to make sure that the wall is never put together again. I am not concerned about the result against Djokovic. Roger's game is exactly where he wants it to be. He is ready for London.