Most of the headlines summing up Roger Federer’s Monday night US Open match with Columbian Santiago Giraldo insinuate the night was a cake walk for the Swiss maestro. In fact, those watching had their moments of panic that have plagued Federer matches lately. While there are still the flashes of smooth, effortless greatness, there are a lot more botched serves and unforced errors than Fed fans are used to. With a player that generally keeps his cards close to his vest, though, it’s sometimes difficult to tell if the 16 time Slam champion is faltering–or simply working on his master plan.
The audience in the Arthur Ashe stadium, and the US Open live feed commentators, didn’t know quite how to react to Federer’s play tonight. While Giraldo had a dismal first serve percentage and some sloppy mistakes, he somehow managed to keep taking games off of an opponent currently ranked third in the world. Federer started off with his confident hair-tossing and focused gaze, but he failed to ace on his serves, and his Achilles heel backhand shots kept falling shorter and shorter.
As we’ve seen from Federer lately, he managed to pull the old tricks when necessary, and yanked himself out of the fire just when you thought he was going up in flames. After awhile, a pattern seemed to emerge. Once he got out a little bit ahead, Federer started changing up his game. He went to net a lot more than usual, 37 times to be exact, and won 23 points there. Rather than playing those long volleys where his backhand can falter, Roger was altering the momentum. It didn’t always work, but it was a promising experiment. Suddenly those uncharacteristic double faults seemed to have a possible explanation–a change-up in serve style. In the second set, Roger’s ace stats went up.
By the third set, vintage Federer began to emerge. He looked more self-assured, with that usual aura of being ready to just dispatch his opponent and get on with his evening. The match progression, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, shows how Federer became less tolerant of letting games go, and the final set was pretty much a quick and easy victory. The crowd gave their Swiss hero a standing ovation, and Roger even cracked a smile at some exuberant fans clamoring for an autograph. All things seemed right in the universe once again.
After the match, Roger admitted he’d been working to adapt to the new, slower courts at the US Open. “As the match went on, I think I started to get more solid and better, and that’s a good feeling to have,” he concluded. It’s a good feeling for the fans, too, who would like nothing better than to see Federer break a few more records in the win column. The fact that he’s willing to tweak his strategy is a good sign for the normally stubborn Swiss player, and we’re hoping he’s got the breathing room to work out some more of his kinks before the later rounds of the tournament.
Can Fed take the Open? We evaluate his progress in the US Open series here.
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