Indian Wells: Federer d. Dodig

At 6’1”, Roger Federer is an inch taller than Ivan Dodig, and it tells you something about the Swiss’ style and overall manner that if you didn’t know better when you watched them play, you might have thought that Dodig is a yeoman built along the lines of 6’5” Tomas Berdych.

It’s an especially tempting assumption, given that Dodig is from Croatia, a nation that keeps churning out players who look like they ought to be representing the NBA rather that the ATP. But while Dodig is a regular shrimp by Croatian standards, he plays big. Very big. He crushes the serve and wallops the forehand.

But once again, Federer demonstrated that the best antidote to a meat-and-potatoes power game is versatility and mobility. Let the other guy look like the dangerous one while you quietly slip in the shiv and slit him from abdomen to sternum. That’s pretty much what Federer did to Dodig in the course of this third-round clash at Indian Wells, winning in just over an hour, 6-3, 6-1.

The most you can say on Dodig’s behalf is that no one deserves to win when you double-fault on three of the four points that gave your opponent service breaks. What’s that ancient commandment so self-evident that nobody even cites it beyond the parks and rec level?

“Get the second serve into the box, doofus!”

Ironicially, Federer started slowly—Dodig pinned him down, 0-40, in the No. 2 seed’s very first service game. But Federer worked his way out of that jam, and it was all downhill for Dodig from there—or from almost there. Dodig, No. 60 in the rankings, managed to stay even with Federer for the first seven games, but he crumbled in the eighth, via his first double fault on break point.

That flub turned out to be the pebble that started the rock slide, even though it took Federer four set points to wrap up the first set in the ninth game.

With a set in hand, Federer shed the gloves and opened the throttle. He had a break point in the first game of the second set, and converted it with a slapshot forehand service return that was too hot for Dodig to handle.

Federer held, and in the third game he reached break point again with a picture-perfect, down-the-line backhand pass. Like many who had come before, Dodig was quickly learning that while the book on Federer is to pound way at his backhand, doing so can also get you in a heap of trouble. Facing a break point, Dodig threw in another double fault.

“Hey,” Federer appeared to be thinking. “This is kind of fun!”

Serving with a 3-0, double-break lead, Federer indulged his generally well-suppressed urge to show off. At 15-all, he moved forward and appeared to produce a forehand drop shot. But a split-second before contact, he changed his mind and gently bunted the ball to Dodig’s forehand corner. Dodig wasn’t that far away from where the ball landed, and a more worthy opponent might have taken the shot as an invitation to drill a third eye in the middle of Federer’s forehead. But Dodig was effectively frozen, and he barely got a racquet on the magical shot, pushing it into the net.

In the blink of an eye it was 4-0. Dodig managed a face-saving hold, but at 1-5 and down match point, he punctuated the match with the most fitting of endings—his final double fault.

Dodig’s main consolation probably was that he can now tell his grandkids that once upon a time, he played the great Roger Federer—this was the first meeting between the men. And he can leave out the bits about the double faults.