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Roger Federer was down to Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo 5-1 in the third set but, somehow, he managed to escape.
I live in Los Angeles. While you Londoners and east coasters were wondering how Roger Federer escaped his second round match with qualifier Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo in Monte Carlo, I was sleeping. When I saw the scoreboard, it looked like Federer had just squeaked by in a third set tiebreaker. It didn’t say anything about coming back from 5-1 in the third set. Let’s see what happened and what it might say about Fed’s game at the moment.
And for those complaining about too much Fed on this site, this actually was the most dramatic match of the day or did I miss something?
First of all, how did this match get to a third set? Ruben is, after all, ranked 137 in the world. I can’t help comparing Ruben to Novak Djokovic’s parody of him and I see where it comes from. Ruben has one sleeve rolled all the way up and one rolled down and his forehand looks like he’s trying to slice the ball in half with an upside down frying pan.
Ruben’s service motion is similar to Filippo Volandri’s except that Ruben often has to chase his toss. I’ve often thought it would be nearly impossible to change a stroke after you’ve been practicing it for ten or twelve years. The subject came up at Indian Wells because Sania Mirza’s forehand is causing problems in her wrist and she recently had surgery on it.
I asked Andy Fitzell if Mirza could change her stroke at this point in her career and he said that he had worked with players and improved their stroke in a short period of working with them. He told me that he once worked with David Wheaton and added, I believe, 10 mph (16 kph) to his serve. Andy is one of the owners of the Vic Braden Tennis College. It amazes me that players don’t seek out this sort of help when they’re strokes are causing injury or, in Ruben’s case, keeping him from staying in the top 100.
Wheaton, by the way, is now a Christian radio personality and the author of a book titled, University of Destruction: Your Game Plan For Spiritual Victory On Campus. That’s an interesting take on the world of academia. Evidently it’s a survival guide for getting through college with your faith intact. The title is a bit hard core if you ask me.
Anyway, back to this match. It looks like I’m being hard on Ruben but I’m not. He did exactly what he was supposed to do in the second set and much of the third set and that was after he’d lost the first set 6-1. He played the match of his life. He was the player getting to the net and putting the ball away in the second set and Fed was the one spraying the ball all over the place.
Now for that third set. Fed said he felt a bit slow and it showed. He lost his serve in the first game when he sauntered to the net to pick up a short return and let the ball drop below the net. The more discombobulated Fed looked, the more Ruben’s confidence grew and the more he started aiming for the lines.
In Fed’s second service game, a curious pattern arose. He was spraying balls left and right and yet he kept playing aggressively instead of reining his game in and focusing on keeping the ball in the court. Playing more safely was the obvious choice because he could afford to do it against Ruben. But there he was going for the lines and missing and losing his serve for a second time to go down 0-3. It looked for all the world like he was treating this match as a practice session for the players he would meet in later rounds; players who are so much better that Fed would have to go for the lines in order to beat them.
It looked like pure stubbornness on his part: a failure to admit that he was playing so poorly that he, Roger Federer, should change his game plan for Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo. Or you could call it cojones – take note Mats Wilander. Down two breaks in the set, he was still going to play his game and it would all work out in the end. And who can blame him because it did.
Federer was down 0-4 and serving when he hit a volley that Ruben appeared to overrun. He ended up hitting it with a between the legs shot. The crowd whistled because they thought Ruben was clowning Fed and they didn’t appreciate it. It was curious because it looked like he had plenty of time to hit the ball and you have to wonder if that little between the legs shot wasn’t a statement from the lower tiered players that said, “Even we’re not afraid of you any more Mr. Federer.”
Whatever it was, it was stupid because Fed was already showing signs of waking up and surely he didn’t appreciate it. He won that game at love and he won three of the points at the net. His inside out forehand approach was working now and when Ruben served for the match the first time at 5-3, he started to crack just the slightest bit. Fed hit a passing shot and it glanced off Ruben’s racket and went wide. The second time Ruben served for the set at 5-4, he lost the game on a double fault and now the set was even and the match was over.
Ruben held his serve one more time, to his credit, but managed to win only one point in the tiebreaker. Fed had escaped, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(1).
One thing I’ve missed in Fed’s absence is the joy of watching him lift his game at the right moment. Instead, now we see stretches of puzzling tennis followed, sometimes, by much better tennis. He surely would have lost this match to any player in the top 100 and I don’t see him being in overall good enough shape to win at Roland Garros this year, but at least his vaunted confidence seems to be intact.