Cincinnati: Federer d. Fish

by: | August 17, 2012

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FedFishRRMASON, OHIO—"I didn’t lose my serve [against Roger Federer] until 4-all in the third here two years ago in the final two years ago. … I haven’t played someone of his caliber in a while …”
—Mardy Fish

And it came to pass: Fish fought gamely against a razor-sharp Federer but, serve aside, wielded too few weapons to whelm the world No. 1. The 20th-ranked American, the nation’s top ATP export in the last year until a heart malady stalled his summer campaign, succumbed 6-3, 7-6 (4).

Federer bolted out to a 2-0 lead, and raced through his service games in the first set, polishing off a pair of them in about a minute each. His timing was exquisite, and the conditions—cool, just a bit windy—perfect for his artistic game. He had 5-3 in half an hour, 6-3 soon after. Fish upped his game in the second, serving big at 129 to 130 miles per hour and going eye to eye with the greatest player ever. Still, Federer flicked a forehand depth-charge at 6-3, 4-all, that Fish simply called "too good," gazing at him in respect.

Even so, Fish is not the Fed disciple that his compatriots Andy Roddick and James Blake have sometimes sounded like in recent years. He’s rather a realist who can call a spade a spade. Or an artist an artist. Two points after commentating his own match, Fish did it again: “Too good, Roger.” That made it 6-3, 5-4.

The Swiss served at 73 percent in the opening set, and his story repeated itself in the second: 73 percent again. He finished with five aces and no double faults, never facing a break point. To his credit, Fish slashed his way to pristine serving as well, with 10 aces and a lone double fault. But what comes after the serve tripped Fish up a few times: He has the heat-seeking backhand, to be sure, but was caught in tennis purgatory, in no Fish’s land, a few times. That’s the space between the service and base lines, and Federer pegged Fish on the shoe with one serve return before the American managed to hold for 5-all in the second and then force a tiebreak.

Fed threaded the net with slice backhands repeatedly, and Fish sometimes attempted to charge the net, but those approach shots almost always found the net or fell long. Perhaps Fish needs to work on his transition game if he’s going to try avoiding all-out baseline pounding with this foe.

A 5-3 advantage for Federer in the tie break became 6-3 when Fish ripped a backhand down the line that would have been a winner had it not smacked the net cord and sat up for an understated smash reply. After shanking a backhand, Federer closed it out by once more catching Fish where he didn’t belong, neither planted in the backcourt nor making the net a wall. Next up for Federer: His countryman Stanislas Wawrinka, who overcame Milos Raonic in three sets but, Swiss through and through, figures to remain a neutral opponent in this impending semifinal match.

Jonathan Scott

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