federer shocker in dubai

Posted on March 3, 2008

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Tennis world number one Roger Federer has always liked Dubai, so much so that he has bought a home there.

That positive feeling is probably fueled by the number of times he has won in the Gulf city’s increasingly-prestigious tennis tournament, four times in the last five years, on top of the city’s sunny weather, good restaurants and cosmopolitan feel.

After all the negative publicity and talk of his decline after losing to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Australian Open, Federer was hoping to make a strong statement in one of his favorite cities, at the Dubai Tennis Championships. Just prior to the tournament, Federer had said he was well-rested, mentally and physically refreshed and prepared to play well in Dubai.

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AP photo

But his first round defeat at the hands of Andy Murray 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-4, is going to send the tennis media and fans into an overdrive once again, speculating if his time as world number one is up, and whether he would be able to draw even with, let alone surpass, Pete Sampras’ all-time number of Grand Slam wins.

The last time Federer lost in the first round of a tournament was during the Cincinnati Masters almost 4 years ago, in 2004. Which also means Murray’s triumph over Federer is the Swiss champion’s second consecutive defeat this year.

Federer had been prescient before the match, pointing out that Murray is one of the game’s rising stars and had already won two tournaments this year, in Doha and Marseille, while he himself had only played in Melbourne so far.

That could be one of the biggest reasons for Federer’s shaky start to the year, a lack of competitive play. In his quest to reach and surpass Sampras’ wins and in the face of all the young talent baying for his blood, Federer is cutting down on his match appearances, which could be a reason for a loss of edge when it came to the crunch.

In fairness too, Murray was playing some pretty sizzling tennis and could have beaten just about anyone with that form. He did not lose his serve throughout the match and shot off his forehand to his advantage. To keep his head and form sharp enough to come back after a first set loss to the world number one speaks volumes of Murray’s growth and confidence as a player. With this win, Murray holds a 2-1 lead in head-to-head appearances with Federer, having beaten Federer in Cincinnati in 2006.

For Federer, the problem is two-pronged — the rest of the pack are indeed catching up to him, converging with his losing the kind of dominance that had made him virtually untouchable, except on clay.

It is high time for Federer to sit down and consider which parts of his game to overhaul, strategic and tactical changes, and which priority is more important to him, holding on to the number one ranking or bettering Sampras’ Grand Slam records. And though it might not seem to matter much to him, he could also do with the help of a coach at this crucial juncture. While this setback may not turn out to be terminal to the Swiss champion, it is perhaps getting a little too familiar for comfort.

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