federer finds the road back

Posted on April 21, 2008

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Roger Federer fans all over the world must be relieved to see their hero finally raise a tournament trophy yesterday with his win at Portugal’s Estoril Open, however qualified a victory it might have been.

After a shaky start to the season (by Federer’s astronomical standards) he was finally able to catch a break and beat an injured Nikolay Davydenko, who retired from a leg injury.

It’s amazing how high a bar the world number one has set for himself. It has recently become bigger news when he does not win. Federer’s 7-6 (5), 1-2 victory over Davydenko, is his first win in five tournaments so far this year. Statistically, it is the first time in eight years that he had to go through five tournaments before getting to a final.

Clearly, his win yesterday, no matter how small and devoid of big names the tournament was, would be a confidence booster for his clay court season.

But Federer is clearly not out of the woods yet.

His form on clay is still hardly intimidating. Federer could have lost the final match yesterday, if Davydenko was in the kind of blazing form that saw him triumph in the recent Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. Even with a leg injury, Davydenko could break Federer’s serve and prevent Federer from capitalizing and converting on early break points in the first set.

It was not an easy road to the final for Federer either. Despite playing much less heralded players, some of them unseeded, Federer struggled with unforced errors and players ranked below the top 100, often having to come back from a set down before closing the match out.

Clay is not his favorite nor a surface that plays to his advantages, so it was natural that he needed some time to adapt. Strategically, it was a good move for him to have added Estoril in his bigger picture title chase of the French Open, the one Grand Slam to elude him.

“It’s great to win a title again, and to straightaway win my first clay-court tournament of the season gives me great confidence going into Monte Carlo,” the 26-year-old Swiss star told the media.

He was also confident that his bout of illnesses, from a stomach virus to mononucleosis, are behind him.

“My movement from the baseline could always be better but getting to those drop shots really showed me this week that I’m again in good health,” he said. “I haven’t had any fallbacks or anything which is a good thing. I feel great again.”

But the bigger test of whether Federer is truly back, and the benefits of his coaching partnership with clay specialist Jose Higueras, will come in the Monte Carlo Masters which starts this week. There, players comfortable playing in the dirt like Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and Guillermo Canas await. Let’s hope Federer is ready to take them on.

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