In this space the first week of the new year this blogger sought to caution Roger Federer fans to not expect too much as the legendary Swiss returned from a six-month hiatus trying to get his body fit again.
Here are some of those words of wisdom (?) from January: “Hypothetically, if Federer failed to get past the third round at the Australian Open his ranking could drop to about No. 25, meaning he likely would not be seeded at events such as Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami, tournaments he plans to enter following Australia.”
More thoughts from that blog: “It’s interesting to note that his three losses before the Wimbledon semi-final last year (his final tournament of 2016) came to 22-year-old Dominic Thiem in Rome on clay and in Stuttgart on grass as well as to 19-year-old Alexander Zverev on grass in Halle. He will play Zverev on Wednesday evening in Perth as Switzerland faces Germany in Hopman Cup.”
Then there was the following: “Almost no one would deny that a glorious return by Federer – to a level comparable to when he left last July – would be stellar for the sport and widely-welcomed. But he’s closer to 40 than 30, so more modest expectations might help cushion the disappointment of his fans and followers if he’s unable to make it back to something near the impossibly high standards he has set for himself.”
Finally, here’s the summing up, which actually slightly left open the possibility of what actually has transpired the past three months, “There’s an effervescence and innocence to players in their early years on the tour just as inevitably as nerves and self doubts gradually creep into an older player’s game. But if there’s anyone who can avoid the latter fate it’s surely the incomparable Federer with his love of the sport and the way he manages all the aspects associated with his rarified status as one of the greatest sportsmen in the world.”
But who in their wildest dreams could have imagined that by the end of the first three months of 2017 he would have won the three biggest tournaments – the Australian Open, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and the Miami Open in Miami – gone 19-1, moved his ranking up from No. 16 to No. 4 and joined Novak Djokovic in the exclusive club of players with career prize money of over $100 million.
Federer’s 6-3, 6-4 victory over Rafael Nadal in Sunday’s final of the Miami Open extended his streak of wins over the Spaniard to four dating back to the final of the Basel event in the fall of 2015. It must make Federer fans happy to finally have the shoe on the other foot because twice – Monte Carlo ’08 to Australian Open ’09 and Indian Wells ’13 to Australian Open ’14 – Nadal had beaten his greatest rival five times in a row in a head-to-head that currently still remains in his favour but by the reduced margin of 23-14. Entering the 2017 year, the most consecutive wins Federer ever had over Nadal was two.
Incredibly, after only playing once (Basel, Oct., 2015) in the 36 months between the 2014 Australian Open and the 2017 Australian Open, Federer and Nadal have played three times in 64 days this year – with two of them in major event finals. Go figure!
The most revealing post-match headline from Sunday was that Federer will now likely take eight weeks off and only play the French Open during the European clay-court season. The reason is he needs to rest and spend time with his family. Also he noted that his surgically repaired left knee felt “really strange” on the clay last year and his physio and his fitness trainer suggested it might be wise to restrict how many tournaments he enters on the dirt this year.
But based on how he played after six months away at the start of 2017 in his first event at the Hopman Cup – defeating No. 66 Dan Evans 6-3, 6-4, losing a thrilling, well-played contest 7-6(1), 6-7(4), 7-6(4) to No. 24 Zverev and beating No. 18 Richard Gasquet 6-1, 6-4 – he has already proved he’s entirely capable of playing at a very high level after time off and no match-play preparation.
A Miami Open sidebar that meshed neatly with Federer’s resurgence was the continuing emergence of Nick Kyrgios as a big-time player. At a time when people are beginning to despair of the day Federer and Nadal leave the sport, Kyrgios and Zverev, whom the former beat in a superb quarter-final match 6-4, 6-7(9), 6-3 in Miami, showed tremendous promise and probably have more charisma now than Federer and Nadal did at the same age. Both have birthdays this month – Kyrgios turning 22 on the 27th and Zverev 20 on the 20th.
Kyrgios showed why many people think he is the most talented player to come along since Federer when he played spectacularly in a 7-6(9), 6-7(9), 7-6(5) loss to the great Swiss in the semi-finals, a frenzied Friday night thriller.
While he still has a number of behavioural hiccups to overcome, it was encouraging to witness his level of commitment and competiveness during the match. Heretofore more enamoured of basketball than tennis, he said about his improvement after losing in three hours and 10 minutes to Federer, “I feel like my level of tennis it’s always been high, but mentally I’m competing for every point. That’s making the difference.”
As much as Federer and Nadal are the men of the moment, especially with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray on the sidelines, the recent play of no. 16-ranked Kyrgios and no. 20 Zverev suggests that the sport will manage to survive and thrive once the current generation is gone.
DABROWSKI HAS MAJOR SUCCESS IN MIAMI
Gabriela Dabrowski won the biggest title of her career on Sunday when, partnering Yifan Xu of China, she triumphed in the doubles final of the Miami Open with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over third seeds Sania Mirza of India and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic.
Dabrowski and Xu, playing together for the first time, had previously ousted second seeds and reigning Olympic champions Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina from Russia 7-6(1), 6-1 in the quarter-finals and fourth seeds Andrea Hlavackova of the Czech Republic and Peng Shuai of China 6-1, 6-4 in the semi-finals. Top seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova were upset in the first round.
There was a full circle element to Dabrowski’s victory – it took place in the same city where she won the Under-18 girls singles Orange Bowl title in 2009 as a 17-year-old, beating Kristina Mladenovic of France in the final.
With the win, she moved her WTA doubles ranking up to No. 19 from No. 34 while the left-handed Xu went from No. 26 to No. 21.
Dabrowski shared a prize money cheque of $285,170 (US) with Xu, meaning that the $142,585 she made equals about 21 per cent of what she had earned ($667,873) in a pro career that dates back 10 years.
She celebrated her 25th birthday on Saturday, the day she and the 28-year-old Xu beat Hlavackova and Peng in the semi-final.
This week Dabrowski is in the doubles event at the WTA International event in Charleston, S.C., paired with Ukrainian veteran Kateryna Bondarenko.
ANDREESCU PLAYING GOOD BALL
Teenager Bianca Andreescu continues to impress at the women’s pro level – winning the $25,000 ITF event in Santa Margherita Di Pula, Italy, with a 6-7(8), 6-2, 7-6(8) victory over American Bernarda Pera on Sunday.
The 16-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., rallied from a 5-2 final-set deficit and saved two match points on the way to winning the third Challenger level title of her career – following Rancho Sante Fe (California) in February and in Gatineau (Quebec) last August.
Andreescu`s WTA ranking moved up from No. 234 to 217.
Believe it or not, Andreescu is entered in a third consecutive $25,000 event in Santa Margherita di Pula this week and, after that tumultuous final on Sunday, will play Pera again in her first-round match on Wednesday.
In two weeks, Andreescu is expected to lead the Canadian Fed Cup team against Kazakhstan in a World Group II Playoff tie in Montreal. The two best players for the Kazakhs are No. 29 Yulia Putintseva, 22, and 29-year-old Yaroslava Shvedova ranked No. 48.
SHAMASDIN SCORES FOUR
Adil Shamasdin recorded his fourth Challenger victory in his last five outings when he and 43-year-old Indian veteran Leander Paes won the Leon (Mexico) $75,000 Challenger on Sunday with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Luca Margaroli of Switzerland and Calo Zampieri of Brazil.
It was a fourth title with a different partner for Shamasdin, having already won with Aussie Sam Groth in Drummondville (Quebec), Andrei Vasilevski of Belarus in Wroclaw (Poland) and Julian Knowle of Austria in Bergamo (Italy).
It seems amazing that Shamasdin was ranked No. 73 before Bergamo in February, his first of four wins, but is currently still only up to No. 65. The 34-year-old’s career high was No. 55 in 2015.
MAC AND COMPANY
The PowerShares senior tour stopped in Toronto last week for a one-nighter at the Ricoh Coliseum.
John McEnroe, 58, was by far the senior senior and he was joined by Andy Roddick, 34, Mark Philippoussis, 40 and Mardy Fish, 35.
McEnroe (above pre-match with Philippoussis and umpire Dana Laconto) was the star attraction. He’s surely playing the best tennis ever played by a 58-year-old and is still worth watching. Nonetheless, a 58-year-old athlete, in a sport as active as tennis, is obviously getting close to his ‘sell-by’ date. It will be interesting to see how much longer he plays, something that could extend for a few more years because he clearly still enjoys the game. He’s well aware that there no second acts after the senior tour…except maybe playing at garden parties in Hollywood or the Hamptons.
For the record, McEnroe lost 7-5 (in the one-set, call-your-own-lines format) to Philippoussis who looked fit and very much at his former playing weight of 202 pounds and also like he might have been able to overpower a man 18 years older more ruthlessly had he so desired.
For the record, McEnroe did the requisite parody of himself and shouted “you cannot be serious” about a line call.
In the other opening match Roddick defeated and Fish 6-3 and neither looked that fit, which brought to mind an answer Roddick gave to a question when he last played an exo in Toronto. Asked about what kind of shape he was in at the time, Roddick responded “is round a shape?”
In the final, Philippoussis beat Roddick 7-6(5).
Before the evening matches began, McEnroe spoke to reporters. During his playing days, he won seven Grand Slam singles titles and held the ATP No. 1 ranking for 170 weeks. But incredibly, when you think about Roger Federer today at 35, did not win a Grand Slam after age 25. McEnroe said about his post-career, “if you believe in something like Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” it appears for whatever reason, someone up above wants me to stay involved in tennis. It’s a sport you can do for your whole life. I wouldn’t be here talking to you otherwise. It’s actually made me develop a much bigger appreciation. I wish I would have liked it as much when I was ‘really really’ playing.”
Feature Picture: Mauricio Paiz