Finally! The wait is over, the return of the GOAT onto a tennis court and he didn't disappoint as he cruised past Radek Stepanek 6-3 6-3 to start his title defence in good fashion and get back to winning ways on the ATP tour after an 8 week break.
The match itself wasn't high quality and there weren't really many surprises but it was pleasing to see Roger look quite sharp to say he's been out of action for so long. Although I thought Fed would win in straight sets I also expected Stepanek to cause a few problems but those never really materialised as Roger dictated the tempo of the match from start to finish.
Quick Match Analysis
This was just the sort of routine first round match we've come to expect from Federer; not really having to do anything special but playing solidly but also having a few minor blips on his own serve when attempting to put the match to bed.
It all started nicely with a love hold and then Federer moved into a 3-1 lead after he broke serve when Stepanek made an unforced error, it was a bit of a gimme break really as Stepanek made a lot of unforced errors and Roger just had to be solid and wait for the mistake.
As is usually the case when trying to consolidate Roger got into troubles of his own having to save 2 break points with big serves which was actually quite nice to see as he cranked up the MPH when required.
Roger had another break point at 4-1 but Stepanek held before Fed served it out 6-3 to get off to a very nice start. The first set was always going to be important for Roger and winning it was going to be a nice confidence boost for him especially after not knowing what his level would be like in competitive play.
The second set was very similar to the first, Roger wasted 2 break points in the very first game but broke Stepanek in his next service game and then consolidated to move 3-1 in front. Stepanek had 2 break points of his own at 3-2 but wasn't able to convert them and he dropped serve again to leave Roger to serve for the match at 5-2.
The game at 5-2 was probably the most interesting of the match and it seemed to last longer than the entire first set, it was constantly switching between break point for Stepanek and match point for Roger.
Stepanek saved 3 match points, or rather Fed wasted them, and Roger saved 4 break points before finally relinquishing serve. I was a bit disappointed he couldn't serve it out the first time of asking as getting broken serving for a match isn't always a great sign but he did manage to break in the very next game which somewhat made up for it.
Thoughts on the Match
Overall a pretty good performance I thought, nothing special and it almost looked like he was cruising for most of it which can either mean 1 of two things a.) he's feeling confident in his game right now he can just coast it over the line even after 8 weeks off or b.) he can't be arsed playing anymore. I'll go with option A though in this instance 🙂
There were a few signs of rust but nothing too major and he did pull out some big serves when required (perhaps good news on the back front), the only disappointment was the fact he got broken when serving for it. In terms of raw stats they were just average – 56% of first serves, 23 winners to 20 unforced errors and 4 out of 10 on break points. Enough to get the job done is the best way of describing it.
As for improvements I'd have liked to see a little bit more pop on the groundstrokes as he was just keeping the ball in play for large parts of it and waiting for Stepanek to clown up. I don't particularly enjoy watching that type of tennis but the strategy worked so if he was planning on easing his way into the tournament and expending little to no energy then it was the perfect display.
Other than that as a fan you can have no real complaints, it was a solid match and turned out to be pretty comfortable. Roger was always a step ahead of Stepanek and once he had him at arms lengths it was just a matter of playing smart tennis and maintaining his advantage and I thought he did that pretty well. I also think playing like this early on bodes well for later in the tournament too so hopefully I'm right.
I didn't think I played incredible, but that's not what I was expecting myself to do here. But I didn't play bad, either, so I'm very happy with how things went today. Stepanek is a player who can cause a lot of difficulties in the game. He has caused me difficulties in the past. Today that wasn't the case. I thought I was pretty much in control.
peRFect Tennis Shot of the Match
Even after a lengthy rest period he can still pull out a cross court backhand flick passing shot that finds the line 😀
Predictions vs. Nishikori / Troicki
Next up for Roger is either Kei Nishkori or Viktor Troicki. Roger has a winning record against them both beating Nishkori in the Basel final of 2011 (their only meeting) and defeating Troicki twice both on hard courts.
I figure he will meet Nishikori as he's infinitely more talented than Troicki. Troicki is probably at his best on clay but whether he can defeat someone like Nishikori who is consistent and talented remains to be seen.
It really doesn't matter a whole lot who Fed play as I think he will get the job done. Nishikori will be a test but I don't think he has the weapons to do much damage so the match is determined solely by how Roger plays. As for Troicki he's a known choker so I don't see him causing many problems. I'll go for a 6-2 6-4 victory either way. Allez!