Roger Federer Proved Himself Twice at the Shanghai Masters
After another title in what has been a captivating season, Roger Federer is still proving his worth to tennis.
By Jane Voigt
Updated: Oct. 16, 2017 • 8:39 AM ET
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have had one of the most storied rivalries in sports history.
Roger Federer may have beaten Rafael Nadal on Sunday in the closely watched Shanghai final, 6-4, 6-3, but Federer’s real victory came in the semifinal against arch nemesis Juan Martin del Potro. Here’s why.
Deep inside Federer is a checklist where he tracks losses. One of them in particular haunts him: the 2009 U.S. Open final, in which he lost to Del Potro. The defeat was labeled a stunning upset because Federer had won all six of their previous matches, and Del Potro’s run to the final was considered a quirk.
After Federer’s quarterfinal win in Shanghai, he said, “I’m ready to come out here tomorrow and see the match [against Del Potro] like it’s a revenge chance for the U.S. Open, you know, where it was tight and I couldn’t win,” Asap Sports transcribed.
Del Potro hasn’t won a Grand Slam since, yet he managed to defeat Federer in 2012 and 2013 Basel, Switzerland, his home-town tournament, before fading from the upper echelons of tennis due to persistent wrist injuries. The two wouldn’t meet again until this year in Miami, a match Federer won. But he took a keen interest in Del Potro’s return long before Miami.
During one press conference, a normally amenable Federer bristled when a reporter wanted his reaction to Del Potro’s expected return to the tour. Federer barked a response, something like, “you go out there and face that forehand,” referring to the thunderous Del Potro weapon that killed any hopes of Federer’s victories in New York, plus those two embarrassments in Basel.
On Saturday, that same annoyed Federer surfaced in Shanghai. Del Potro had taken the first set and looked on track to win the match if Federer continued to take Del Potro’s punishment. “Del Potro has been surprisingly good,” Nick Lester said, calling the match for Tennis Channel.
Federer’s irritation was exacerbated by a fumbled line call, or what he thought was a fumbled line call. He looked miserable during the end-of-set changeover, and his three-day-old beard didn’t help alleviate that impression. He had to calm down. Another loss to Del Potro would hurt.
Fast forward to the sixth game of the second set, fourth deuce point on Del Potro’s serve. The Argentine was immersed in his own battle with the chair umpire, and the crowds had been too noisy during his serves. And, the umpire hadn’t called Federer on some infraction, or so concluded Del Potro.
“Could this be the point that changes the direction of the match?” Lester asked rhetorically.
During that game, deuce after deuce came and went. Ad Fed once, twice…five times. Nineteen points in the game, so far. On the 20th, Del Potro’s fierce forehand failed him. The ball clipped the top of the net, as he went for yet another cross-court blazer.
Del Potro continued to rant at the chair-umpire with Federer up a break 4-2. Del Potro’s concentration faltered, and he lost momentum. He couldn’t blame anyone but himself. His mind had destabilized his talents. He was asked after the match if the second set changed the momentum.
“Yeah, because he took the confidence after that game,” Del Potro said. “He broke me and he start to play more aggressive. He served much better after that game.”
At that point in the match Federer’s irritation started to fade. Chances improved that revenge would be his. He relaxed and unleashed, holding easily and winning the second set.
“I played a very clean second set, Federer said. “I had many more chances on the return. Hardly dropped points on my own serve.
“Probably was a bit better in that second set. And then it's just important to somehow get it done. Sometimes you need the help of your opponent, and sometimes it needs to work out the way the point plays out.”
In the final set, the pace of Federer’s serves increased, as they consistently hit their spots. He threw in more offensive tactics, sensing Del Potro’s weighty attitude that translated into sluggish movement. Without that, his forehand couldn’t dominate.
“I think the court helps his game a lot, and he always is in good shape,” Del Potro said. “He looks like an unbelievable athlete, you know. I think in this court not many players can beat him…he's the only one who can play an excellent tennis on this faster surface (if Nadal didn’t defeat him), you know”
Federer’s “excellent tennis” against Nadal in the final was, in part, a result of his semifinal win.
“I had no nerves really before the match, which is nice,” Federer, who broke in the opening game, said after the match via tennis.com. “I was pretty clear about how I wanted to play the match. And then I came out and started off very well.”
The title was Federer’s 700th match win, 94th career title and 27th Masters 1000 title. It also puts him even with Nadal, both having won six titles this year, while splitting the four Grand Slams. And although Federer still lags in their head-to-head, 15-23, he has defeated Nadal five consecutive times: Basel 2016, Australian Open final, Indian Wells fourth round, Miami final and Shanghai.