For over half an hour in Roger Federer’s third-round match with Tommy Haas at the Western & Southern Open, even the most faithful and optimistic of Fed fans must have been tempted to give up all hope and acknowledge that their hero is in the midst of a horrible career crisis.
In fact, over that time, Federer himself looked like a man hopelessly lost and out of touch with all that has made him great.
But less than two hours later, those same fans were rejoicing as Federer completed a comeback victory that may do more for his recently damaged confidence and self-assurance than any routine, straight-sets triumph ever could. For Federer turned around a dismal start—in the first set, he won just 40 percent of the points when he put his first serve into play—and slowly pulled away from Haas to win, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3.
To quote Mark Twain: The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.
This was a somewhat strange clash, though, as Haas bore even more responsibility for Federer’s win than the Swiss star himself. The German bolted out to a 6-1, 4-2 lead, but seemed to lose his nerve and allow Federer back into the match when he was broken for 4-all. An air of near inevitability descended on the match after that; Federer raised his game and he asserted greater control in a deadly symbiotic dance to the finish.
Some matches have what you might call false turning points, and this was one of them. That point occurred in the sixth game of the second set, with Haas still holding onto his set-and-one-break lead. Federer, who held a love game with impunity for 2-3, began the game with a down-the-line forehand winner—his best shot of the day to that point. It looked as if he was ready to turn things around. But Haas played beautifully to survive two deuces, and salted away the game for 4-2 with a rally-ending, un-returnable forehand.
Haas was entitled to breath more easily after that, but instead he tightened up while Federer suddenly relaxed and began to find his rhythm. Federer dealt a pair of aces in the next game and produced another quick hold for 3-4 despite the pressure he was under. That put the onus right back on Haas, who cracked.
Federer started that critical eighth game with a cross-court backhand winner, after which Haas double-faulted: Love-30. Haas then made his most egregious error of the match, a sloppily hit backhand that died in the netting. Suddenly, Federer had three break points to draw even, and he converted the second of those when Haas blew another backhand off the return of a second serve. Federer was very much alive at 4-all, and after he survived a break point in the very next game, the match truly turned.
Afer a pair of holds, Federer pinned Haas down 15-40 with a prodigious inside-out forehand winner. Haas swept away the first break point with a service winner, but Federer hit a lovely backhand cut volley winner to break for the set.
In the third set, each man survived two break points in one game, and they reached 4-3, with Federer leading, on serve. He jumped to a 15-30 lead against Haas' serve, then unloaded a powerful backhand down-the-line winner to reach break point, and converted it when Haas made a rally-ending backhand error.
Federer served it out with ease, ending the match with an inside-in forehand winner.
Stat of the Match: The serve played a surprisingly large role for both men, both in terms of the points they won and those they lost. The outstanding stat was Federer’s 92 percent success rate on first serves in the decisive third set—compared to Haas’ 62 percent—a far cry from that ugly first set conversion rate.