Who says the Swiss don’t like to take sides in a fight? Tennis.com's seventh-best match of 2014, Roger Federer’s 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (6) win over his countryman Stan Wawrinka at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, was nothing short of a three-way family feud: First Rog and Stan fought on court; then Stan fought with Rog’s wife, Mirka; then Rog and Stan had words off court. It made for an explosive evening, and finally put a charge into what had been a disappointingly dull week of tennis at the O2 Arena.
It was all so explosive that Federer, who suffered a back injury in the deciding tiebreaker, couldn't play the final against Novak Djokovic the next day. While that didn't work out for the fans at the O2, it somehow all worked out for the best for the Swiss: The following weekend in France, Federer and Wawrinka made up by winning the Davis Cup for each other. Perhaps forgotten now is how good, and drama-filled, the match itself between them in London was. Here’s a look at the 10-minute clip above.
—Yesterday I wrote about Federer saving match points against Gael Monfils at the U.S. Open. He does it again against Wawrinka in this one. In both cases, though, he forces himself to save them by digging a hole early. Federer obviously had a great season, but there were days when he came out of the gates very flat. Should that concern his fans for next year, when he’ll turn 34? He escaped against Monfils and Wawrinka, but he didn’t get away with another slow start, against Marin Cilic at the Open.
—Here Wawrinka gets the better of Federer from the baseline early. That’s not a shock; Stan hits a heavy ball, and few can stay with him when he’s clicking. He rips off a backhand winner and follows it by smashing a Federer serve for a forehand return winner. Wawrinka finished 2014 the way he started it: By surprising us all with the quality and conviction of his tennis—he specialized in the ambush. After losing meekly to Djokovic early in the week in London, he stuns Federer in this first set, and he'll go on to do the same to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a week later in the Davis Cup final, setting a pugnacious tone for the Swiss win. Wawrinka wasn't a consistent player throughout 2014, but he was an opportunistic one.
—Federer’s surge coincides, not coincidentally, with his turn toward the net in the second set; the same thing happened against Monfils at the Open. Federer's determination to move forward this year also helped make his baseline game more effective. You can see how much more active he is from back there as this match progresses; by the midway point, he has taken the initiative from Wawrinka. Federer also shows how much quickness he hasn’t lost over the years. He can still range across the baseline and take a Wawrinka volley out of the air.
—Wawrinka answers Federer with a big “Come on!” after winning a point in the third set. There’s tension in the arena, and it will obviously grow.
—Serving at 4-3 and deuce in the third, Wawrinka serves and volleys and puts a backhand volley on the outside of the sideline for a winner. Is this what led him to think he could use the same tactic on all three of his match points two games later? Stan said he wanted to surprise Federer with a quick strike, but doing it three times made the decision look like a panic attack. It's one that all tennis players know well: At match point, there’s a natural desire, born of hope and fear, to get it over with quickly.
—On each of those match points, Wawrinka shows why he would have been better off at the baseline:
On the first, he’s stretched wide to his right, but he still tries a crosscourt volley back to his left. The standard play is to volley that ball down the line, so it stays in front of you; Wawrinka pays the price for going the other way when Federer passes him into the open court.
On the second, Wawrinka comes in behind a body serve. We hear a lot about how players “don’t use the body serve enough.” There’s a reason for that: It’s risky. If you’re a few inches off, the ball is going to end up in the returner’s strike zone. That’s what happens to Wawrinka. Federer reflexes a forehand return that Stan isn’t ready to handle.
On the third (which may not be shown in this clip), Federer’s return floats right at Wawrinka. He decides to take it with a backhand volley, but he doesn’t get his body out of the way, and rushes the shot into the net. He goes for the quick winner, when depth and placement would have been the percentage play.
It ended badly for Wawrinka at 5-4, but it may have been the most memorable single game of the 2014 season.
—What’s left for Stan to do at that stage but get into a fight with his opponent's wife? The moment isn’t included above, but you can find it here. In the end, Mirka may have helped the Swiss cause in Davis Cup. From his tough play to his tough words for the French team, Wawrinka seemed determined to prove he wasn’t a “crybaby” in the final.
—Want to see what a mic drop in tennis looks like? Watch Federer’s drop-shot winner on his first match point. It’s a winning shot that comes with a lesson for his teammate:
“That's how you finish a match at the net.”
The Top 10 Matches of 2014
No. 1: Djokovic d. Federer at Wimbledon
No. 2: Sharapova d. Halep at Roland Garros
No. 3: Kvitova d. V. Williams at Wimbledon
No. 4: S. Williams d. Wozniacki at WTA Finals
No. 5: Wawrinka d. Djokovic at Australian Open
No. 6: Murray d. Robredo at Valencia
No. 7: Federer d. Wawrinka at ATP World Tour Finals
No. 8: Federer d. Monfils at U.S. Open
No. 9: Kvitova d. Kerber at Fed Cup
No. 10: Nishikori d. Ferrer at Madrid