The Revenge of Cañas

Guillermo Cañas got his second shot in a row at Roger Federer at the Masters Series event in Miami.

When Kobe Bryant went on a recent tear and scored at least 50 points in four straight games for the Los Angeles Lakers, his coach Phil Jackson suggested that Bryant was motivated by two recent suspensions. Bryant was pissed off because he thought the NBA treated him harshly when they gave him two one game suspensions for flailing his arms and hitting players in the face.

Guillermo Cañas was already angry. In 2005 he received a two year suspension for using performance enhancing drugs prescribed by an ATP doctor and delivered to him by ATP staff. Later that year the ATP kicked him off the grounds of the U.S. Open when he tried to see his girlfriend play a match. Cañas appealed the decision and got the suspension reduced to 15 months but he was out to prove that the suspension was unfair.

That was bad enough. Then Roger Federer chimed in. After Federer lost to Cañas in Indian Wells, this is what he said about Cañas’ suspension:

They always fight for it anyway, everybody that was tested positive, you know. That’s, for me, just not understandable, you know. Everybody who gets caught always says, “I didn’t do anything,” so…

It’s just not right, you know.

I don’t blame Federer, how can you believe anyone if everyone says they’re not guilty? But Cañas surely didn’t appreciate it and here he was two weeks later at another Masters Series event with another shot at Federer. This was gonna be fun.

Canas won the first set tiebreaker but Federer came back and took the second set easily, 6-2, and it looked like Federer had taken the measure of Cañas’ game and figured out how to beat it. In Indian Wells, you remember, Federer had a blister on his foot which impaired his movement. Now he had no excuses and he was taking care of business.

Federer got up a break in the third set and had two break points to go up another when it got interesting. He failed to convert either break point and this set the crowd loose. Cañas is an Argentine and there are a lot of South Americans in Miami. The crowd was rowdy all day and they delayed the beginning of Federer’s serve in the next game with cheers of “Willy”, Cañas’s nickname. It wasn’t just Argentines, there were a few Brazilians in the crowd too. It was the Swiss Federer against South America.

Federer put a hard serve down the middle but Cañas managed to bunt it back for a good return. It is windy in Miami but then it’s been windy all week so it seemed a bit strange when Federer hit the ball more than a few feet beyond the baseline. He did the very same thing on the next point. Nothing else you can call that but nerves.

A point later Federer seemed to forget how to move as he put an easy forehand into the net to give Cañas two break points. One more Federer shot beyond the baseline and non-South Americans were putting their hands to their face in astonishment.

We’ve been talking about slumpers this week, James Blake and Fernando Gonzalez in particular having been having problems. Maria Sharapova isn’t doing so well either. Her serve has been dismal since she injured her hamstring at the end of January and she got trounced by Serena Williams here for the second time this year. Federer could probably sympathize.

When your rhythm goes off your confidence will take a hit and the first place a player will feel that is on the big points. Federer had already botched a few of them earlier in the match. When he served at 4-5 in the third set tiebreaker, he had another opportunity.

He hit a good serve wide and got a popup from Cañas. Federer then stepped inside the line and hit a swinging volley. Right into the net. Instead of pulling even, he’d given Cañas two match points. Cañas was the number 8 player in the world when he was suspended so his results this year shouldn’t a surprise. Cañas put a good serve right down the middle, Federer, perhaps appropriately, whiffed at it and Cañas had his second victory over Federer in as many tournaments.

Federer managed to win three grand slams around back to back losses to Rafael Nadal last year but he also won both Indian Wells and Miami. We’ll see if is this month has been a blip for him or the start of a bigger problem. It’s a lot easier to push yourself up the rankings when you feel you’ve been wronged than it is to maintain a number one ranking for over three years so it would not be shocking to see Cañas continue to thrive and Roger experience further problems.