not quite poetry in motion, but it’ll do for now

Posted on January 19, 2009

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While we usually marvel at Roger Federer’s sublime forehand, his footwork and pin-point accurate serves, the often-overlooked and little-discussed quality that has lifted his game above other players is his consistency. Unfortunately, that seems to be deserting him more frequently these days.

It was evident in his opening match at the Australian Open against Italy’s Andreas Seppi, who is ranked thirty-fifth in the world.

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(Getty Images)

While it was a straight set victory for Federer, 6-1 7-6 (7-4) 7-5, it was far from a vintage Federer performance.

The first set saw Federer dominating, but he was helped mightily by an erratic Seppi, who failed to seize a break point chance at the start of the match. Against a wilier opponent, Federer would have been punished more harshly and would have been unlikely to sail through with a 6-1 scoreline in the first set.

When Seppi upped the ante in the second set, even seeing set point in the second set, Federer’s under-rated consistency left him. Countless break chances came when Seppi was serving, but Federer was unable to convert them. Federer fans watching know that the Federer of old would not have let those chances slip, let alone allow the set get to a tie-break. And he finally closed out the match at the fifth match point, another indication of the less than easy road ahead for him.

Federer chalked up a total of 43 unforced errors during the match, with wayward forehands, misfired backhands and shanking routine shots into the net. But again, Federer was lucky to get away with it, thanks to Seppi’s errors. Seppi must still rue the fact that he failed to capitalize on the set point against an error-strewn Federer.

We have become so familiar with Federer’s superb all-round game that we still cringe in disbelief when he fails to make the kind of shots that we have come to take for granted.

His consistency enabled him to produce the sort of gorgeous, physics-defying game that has become a Federer trademark. When it clicks, like it did at last week’s Kooyong tournament that he won, Federer is peerless and unstoppable. But that type of form seems to be showing up less frequently than Federer would like these days.

Federer is optimistic as he continues his assault on Pete Sampras’ fourteen Grand Slam titles record. “I thought I played well,” Federer said after beating Seppi. “I had to; he’s a quality opponent.”

Let’s hope Federer’s consistency won’t forsake him further and his quality will keep improving, even as the caliber of his upcoming rivals inevitably gets higher.

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