As of last week, Roger Federer suddenly found himself with two more mouths to feed. So he did the responsible thing and got on a plane to find work in Italy at the Rome Masters. His first day on the job proved to be nightmare, though, as Jeremy Chardy showed great grit and spirit to reverse the tide of a terrible first set—and survive a match point—to eliminate Federer, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6).
This was a topsy-turvy match characterized by some incredibly sloppy play due to gusting winds. It also featured numerous swings of momentum and, as is so often the case in this kind of volatile clash, boatloads of errors. Chardy made 28 unforced errors, while Federer contributed 43—of which 29 were with his usually lethal forehand.
At times in the first set, it must have seemed to Chardy that he was stuck in a Sergio Leone western. Out there, in the midst of a swirling dust storm beneath alternately dark and bright skies was the implacable gunslinger who'd come to shoot him down. Federer embraced to the role well, taking full advantage of his relatively compact game on day when the wind was brutal.
Federer and Chardy had met just once previously, at the beginning of the year in the semifinals of Brisbane. There Chardy offered surprisingly stiff resistance, winning a second-set tiebreaker before he succumbed in three sets. But Chardy is a lean and lanky 6’2” with the wingspan of an Andean condor, which gives him advantages on some occasions but works against him on others.
This was a day when it worked against him, because he has a very high ball toss and he takes big cuts, especially on the forehand side. And with the wind blowing at times up to 25 knots, the ball was frequently somewhere other than where Chardy hoped to meet it by the time he hit the business end of his long swings.
Federer, who was seeded No. 4 in Rome, also had some trouble adjusting, and Chardy pushed him to deuce in the very first game. But Federer got dialed in quickly and seemed to accept the conditions in a positive frame of mind. After three holds, Federer broke Chardy with ease. That game began with a double fault and ended with a forehand error to give Federer the break and a 3-1 lead.
Federer then held with ease and broke Chardy again, after which he served out the set in under half an hour.
At the start of the second set, Federer seemed to remember that he was supposed to be distracted, rusty and ripe for a sneaky, résumé-enhancing win by Chardy. His game grew sloppy and unpredictable while Chardy addressed some of the problems that had caused his first-set demise, and generally tightened up his game and focus.
There was little Chardy could do about those long swings of his on this blustering day. What he could do, though, was give the ball less time to sail around. He moved in closer to the baseline and began to do a better job of taking the ball on the rise. That enabled him take charge of points when he had the opportunity, and also put Federer under greater pressure by taking time away from him.
The upshot was a service break for Chardy early in the second set, and once he had that 3-1 lead he held onto it as tenaciously as a bulldog. The key to the set—and in the long term, perhaps even the match—was the seventh game, in which Chardy found himself behind while serving, 15-40.
Federer made a forehand service return error to waste the first break point, and Chardy hit his first ace of the match to rub out the second. From deuce, Chardy induced a backhand rally error out of Federer, then finished off the game with a surprise serve-and-volley attack that ended with the Swiss drilling a forehand pass into the net.
With his lead safe at 5-2, Chardy served out the set two games later. He’d made just three unforced errors to Federer’s 20.
When Federer fell behind 0-40 in the first game of the third set, it looked like Chardy might run away with the match. But a flurry of errors later, Federer had escaped with a hold. Neither man threatened after that until Chardy once again built a 0-40 lead in the fifth service game (with Federer serving). Yet again, Federer swept aside a couple of break points—but not the third one. Chardy hit a thunderous forehand approach shot and that forced Federer into a lob error to grab a 3-2 lead.
After a quick, brutal hold (four big first serves, no rallies), Chardy had two more break points in the seventh game. But Federer hung onto the game, and when he broke Chardy for 4-all, it seemed that the tables had been turned a final time. But there were a few more surprises in store.
In the tiebreaker that ensued after the next four holds, Federer seemed to be in command when he banged out a pair of service winners to take a 5-4 lead. Sure enough, Chardy won the next point. But the pressure got to him and he hit an awful double fault to give Federer a 6-5 lead—match point.
That’s a hard pill to swallow, but Chardy washed it down beautifully. Federer played an excellent match point, attacking the net behind a whiplash cross-court forehand approach. But Chardy, running at full stretch, flicked back a scoop forehand that traveled past his hard-charging opponent—and just beyond the reach of his outstretched racquet.
At 6-6, Federer failed to hold his service as he ended a rally with a netted forehand. It was now Chardy’s match point, and he made good on it with a second serve that Federer misplayed and hit out.