Federer and Nadal Go Down Easily

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal lost in the semifinals at Indian Wells by the same lopsided score.

Two matches with identical scores: 6-2, 6-3, and the losers were the number one and two ranked players in the world. At least Rafael Nadal had an excuse. He played tough three set matches against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and James Blake his last two times out, and here he was playing the number three player in the world – Novak Djokovic – in the first semifinal at Indian Wells.

Nadal said he felt slow on the court and it showed. A number of times Djokovic’s deep shots bounced up and Nadal couldn’t control them. That’s not something you see every day.

Roger Federer had a tiny excuse. His quarterfinal match was a walkover because Tommy Haas developed a sinus infection and dropped out of the tournament. That may have affected his rhythm:

Federer’s semifinal opponent was Mardy Fish, though, and Federer had given up exactly one set in five previous matches with him. Federer looked terrible out there. He couldn’t keep his forehand in the court, he didn’t serve well, and he couldn’t do much with his backhand either.

Not that Fish is chopped liver, of course, and Federer went to great pains to point that out when a journalist mentioned Fish’s current ranking of 98:

It’s not like he’s been 98 for the first time in his life [and] he just made a career breakthrough breaking into the top100. The guy has been top 20 before, and he’s had big matches here…Let’s not talk about 98 in the world. We know he’s way better than that.

Federer is right, Fish was ranked as high as 17 and last February he was ranked 22 before he missed time with an injury. But Federer was pretty snarly in his response and that belied the calm he likes to project after a loss. Maybe he looked at the stat sheet and saw that Fish got only 34% of his first serves in and still managed to beat him handily.

It looks to me like the wheels are coming off Federer’s reign even if the players don’t agree. When someone asked Fish if players view Federer differently now that he’s having a tough time winning tournaments, he dismissed the thought:

We just kind of laugh at it. We just think it’s kind of a joke. He’s only played two tournaments. Semifinals (at the Australian Open) while he had mono is pretty good.

I don’t believe it. Federer didn’t used to lose this kind of match and as far as I can tell, he hasn’t lost a match 6-3, 6-2, since January 2003. One person, for sure, who’s licking his lips is Djokovic.

Nadal won this tournament last year and after Miami, he has to defend almost the entire clay court season and a final at Wimbledon. Djokovic reached the semifinals at the French Open and Wimbledon last year so it’s entirely likely that he’ll be breathing down Nadal’s neck by summertime. Djokovic could be the one to unseat Nadal at Roland Garros, not Federer, the way things are going.

How did Fish beat three top ten players at Indian Wells? By being the aggressor. At the first opportunity, he hit the ball hard to one corner or the other. He’s been going for shots before his opponent has and, according to Fish, his opponents were not comfortable with that:

They all defend really well but the way their bank accounts have grown is because they’re aggressive and they’re the aggressor. When I’m the aggressor, I’m not sure they like that as much.

Someone at Fish’s postmatch media session pointed out that the Indian Wells trophy has a whale on it in honor of the corporate sponsor Pacific Life, whose symbol is an airborne whale. A fish trophy for a Fish. How cool is that?