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Fedophiles' Fiesta (thanks to Annette Esteves for suggesting a new descriptor)

March 18, 2012 | 12:32 PM

Strange days, indeed... The Fed making mutton chops Rafaeli on St. Patty's day, and outdoors on a hard court?

The world had grown accustomed to expecting such a thing. Roger hadn't done it since 2005 in Miami 7 years ago (in 5 sets), losing all four of their outdoor hard court encounters since). Indoors it was a different story, with Fed winning all four of their matches, but he never stopped believing he could make it happen anywhere. And at least in a 2 out of 3 set format yesterday, his long term investment in developing a more forward and attacking style paid off, moving Federer a step closer to his goal of - don't laugh - re-taking the #1 ranking.

Ridiculous?

Yes - unless he starts reaching major finals again. But with a title here (and another 1000 or two elsewhere), he will make it an interesting Race as long as Rafa and Joker don't end up reaching as many major finals, and as long as Andy doesn't emerge under the tutelage of Ivan as a Lendl incarnate. In ranking points, he will trail Rafa by only 100 and have a 2500 point lead on Murray. With another strong event in Miami this month, Roger can put more pressure on Rafa before the clay court season. In any event, one thing is clear: the clock has not been turned back farther than 2011.

While Fed's opponent yesterday matched up very differently from Delpo on Friday, it made little difference to his style of play: he started fast, broke early, hit 28 winners, including 6 aces, one on his first match point after a 3 minute rain delay (initiated by Rafa), and won 8 of 9 net approaches. Gone are the slice backhand returns from behind the baseline: Fed took 2nd serves well inside the baseline and hit with enough depth from both sides to pin Rafa back. By cutting off wide serves to his backhand in the ad court, Fed took away Rafa's inside out forehand opportunities Rafa needs to make hay (until the last 3 games, Rafa had but a couple of forehand winners). Positioning himself inside the baseline, The Fed controlled points from the start, and when forced back in an exchange, he hit for depth to earn short balls that allowed him to slap winners with his forehand. With Fed serving at 6-3, 5-2, the match might have been as routine a win as the Del Potro match had Rafa not stepped up his own aggressiveness and hit some winners. It's well to remember that Rafa hadn't played a tournament since Australia, and was not serving or playing at his best in his last two matches. The uncharacteristic errors piled up and baffled him, while the wind may have diminished his ability to run down Roger's placements and extend points.

Rafa earned his 2nd break of the match at 2-5, and held with a strong service game as the conditions deteriorated. Wind was a factor in the match which worked against Rafa, who waited longer for balls due to playing deeper in the court. At 4-5 on Roger's last service game, Rafa almost whiffed a backhand which came at him faster than expected, and a point later at 30-30, after a 20 shot exchange, he plowed a routine looking forehand into the middle of the net from inside the baseline (it may have come short of where he expected it, as it wasn't the kind of nervous topspin mistake he'd often made against Nalbandian).

Prospects for tomorrow

While Roger is a prohibitive favorite in the odds, he is wise to be on record saying that Isner is the man to beat, noting that he'd just lost to him in Davis Cup and that John had just played a great match against the #1. While this could make someone in Roger's shoes feel a little better about his own loss last month, it seems to make Roger more eager to play the big man again.

Rain tomorrow is as unlikely as ever in the desert, but 15 mph winds are expected and may make the job of getting Isner's serve back more difficult. It is sure to be more difficult today for Roger to attack off the backhand side (even Joker struggled with it on his two hander). But with this being John's first ever 1000 final, on the heels of such an upper, he may not begin with the same fresh slate, and falling behind Roger when he's playing this well will put pressure on Isner that he may not handle.

Rickger's shoes feel a little better about his own loss last month, it seems to make Roger more eager to play the big man again.

Rain tomorrow is as unlikely as ever in the desert, but 15 mph winds are expected and may make the job of getting Isner's serve back more difficult. But with this being John's first ever 1000 final, on the heels of such an upper, he may not begin with the same fresh slate.

And Roger is playing as well as anyone has seen him play on an outdoor hard court surface like this for 6 years.

Rick

BNP Paribas Open: Indian Wells Semis


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