How did Roger Federer lose to wild card Filippo Volandri in the Masters Series event in Rome? Let me count the ways.
1. Mistaken Identity
Federer couldn’t hit the side of a barn with his forehand – he hit two forehand winners all day – but he kept going for big shots. If he’d been playing Rafael Nadal that would have made sense, but it wasn’t Nadal, it was Filippo Volandri who is currently number 53 in the world. Federer should have made the adjustment any amateur knows how to make: get the ball in play and let your opponent make an error. At the very least, make your opponent hit some shots. Volandri had no opportunity to lose his nerve because Federer didn’t make him hit enough balls to lose his nerve.
2. No Returns Accepted
Volandri is a weak server. When he was serving for the match, one of his first serves came in at 86 mph. Olivier Rochus is 5ft5in and his serve is more intimidating. Yet Federer got exactly one break because he couldn’t return the ball and he didn’t pressure Volandri’s second serve (which is barely stronger than my second serve).
3. Server Down
Federer’s first serve percentage was 44%. It’s clay court tennis, if you can’t get your first serve in it’s not like the lighting fast court gives you a second opportunity to hit a big serve. Here’s the stubbornness again. Take something off the first serve and just get it in! Works for Rafael Nadal.
4. Can’t Get a Break
When Federer lost to Guillermo Canas earlier this year, he said he wasn’t playing the big points well. Today Federer had seven break points and he converted exactly one. Volandri, on the other hand, had eight break opportunities and converted four.
5. Wrong Side of the Bed
Maybe Federer fell out of bed and knocked himself unconscious without knowing it because he forgot how to slide. Clay court movement is not his forte but again and again Volandri hit a deep cross court shot and Federer couldn’t get himself close enough to slide into the ball on the soft red clay. I’ve never seen him play so badly. Forty-four unforced errors in two sets with four double faults and only twelve winners.
Volandri is not one of those wild cards who’s ranked two or three hundred and something, he’s a pretty good clay court player. He won more clay court matches than Nadal last year and took the title at Palermo. Of course, Nadal was undefeated and Volandri lost fifteen matches but still, he’s not chopped liver.
Right about now, Federer is chopped liver. His last four tournaments ended with four Federer losses and today, a meltdown. The edge is gone, at least for the time being. There’s no longer that feeling that Federer will pull a win out by suddenly taking over a match and easily dispatching his opponent. His opponents frequently show more desire than he does. His clay court season is in tatters and Nadal is running away with every tournament.
The best we can do is hope that Novak Djokovic can beat Rafael Nadal – they play each other next. That’s not likely but then neither was today’s result.