14 November, 2006

Tennis: Federer versus Roddick

OK. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

I expected Federer to roll right over Roddick. The very first set proved me wrong.

It was tight from the very first game, and in the third game, Roddick broke Federer. He retained that break until 5-4, 40-30 - set point Roddick. There were two points that told the tale of the match, and this was the first.

Roddick served, and followed it straight into the net. Roddick's volley off Federer's return was solid, if uninspiring, to Federer's backhand. Federer was out of options, so he hit a conservative backhand over Roddick's backhand shoulder. Roddick decided not to play it, electing to let it sail long. Only it didn't. It landed a good foot inside the baseline.

With the set on his racket, Roddick decided to hope for a free point.

That's never a good sign.

When you trust your opponent to miss more than you trust yourself to hit that shot, you are having some fear problems.

Roddick went on to win the next two points, and closed out the set 6-4. But it was a telling moment.

Against Nalbandian, Federer turned it on in the second set. Not so against Roddick. Roddick may have been afraid, but he was handling it. The highlights showed some inspired play by both players in the second set. They quickly jumped to the tiebreak. Roddick was up 6-6, 6-4 - double set point Roddick. It was only by clear, calm play that Federer pulled his way back first to 5-6, and finally to a 9-8 lead in the tiebreak. Roddick was serving to stay in the set. (This is normal. In a perfect tiebreak, the server is always serving from behind.) This is the second telling point of the match.

Roddick served a screamer to Federer's backhand. There was precious little Federer could do, so he just blocked a floater back. Roddick leapt at the ball, and smashed it - 4 feet long.

It's just a mistake, but with that mistake the match was over. It was a free point, if Roddick played it right, but instead he played it loose. He was feeling a tremendous relief at having gotten the free point, and then he gave it away. Fear makes you do things like that.

They showed some highlight shots from the third set, but nothing memorable. Except one shot in which Roddick served a screamer to Federer's backhand, Federer blocked it back, and Roddick leapt at the ball, and smashed it - 3 feet in.

It's amazing what a difference a complete lack of pressure can make.

Federer 4-6, 7-6, 6-4.

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