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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 March 2019

Dubai Tennis: Roger Federer lives on the edge to beat Fernando Verdasco in second round

Swiss second seed, and seven-time champion, faces Hungarian Marton Fucsovics in Thursday's quarter-final

Roger Federer salutes the crowd after his victory over Fernando Verdasco in Dubai. Reuters
Roger Federer salutes the crowd after his victory over Fernando Verdasco in Dubai. Reuters

Even as the nerves jangled all round him, Roger Federer did what he has made a career out of. He kept calm.

Twenty grand slam titles would do that. An unprecedented seven Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships crowns, too.

So when Federer’s second-round match against Fernando Verdasco appeared to have flipped on its head so that he faced break point right at the beginning of the deciding set, he bit down and pulled through. He served an ace, won the game. And, not too long after, the match.

A 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory, much to the relief of another packed Centre Court, took Federer’s record against Verdasco to 7-0. At times, he didn’t have his best stuff, the Swiss second seed conceded later, but crucially, he had enough when it mattered most.

Federer has made a transcendent career out of it, after all. No need to panic.

“These best-of-three-set matches, you're not always in control of everything because, like you saw at the end, a good five minutes of the opponent or a good five minutes of you can decide the outcome,” Federer said. “You're definitely living on the edge at some point in the match. This is how it is.

“I'm happy I actually stayed calm throughout the game. I felt like I was having a good feeling out there. Even though I wasn't playing my best, I still felt like it was going to fall my way when it really mattered.

“I think that confidence is important in sports or in tennis. I'm happy I had it today. I was right. I played good at the end. I had the serve when I needed it, had some good shots, a good point on break point when I needed it. That was nice to win it that way.”

Nice to win, as well, without his A-Game. Federer looked to be “on” in the first set, breaking Verdasco to go 3-1 up. In the second, though, the mood of the match shifted, prompted by Verdasco breaking to take a 2-0 lead.

But Federer saved that huge break point to level the third set at 1-1, then broke Verdasco for 5-3 and then served out the match. The roar that greeted the break was about as loud as Centre Court gets.

Still, he said, it was far from his best display this season.

“I've played better this year,” said Federer, contesting his first tournament since exiting last month’s Australian Open at the fourth round. “All of Australia [Hopman Cup included], so …

“This is the second round after a very tricky first round [against Philipp Kohlschreiber]. It felt like a first round again to some extent. Just because I won now and maybe lost some other ones doesn't mean they're always necessarily better. That's a hard thing to sell, I know.”

He’s been buying victories for some time in Dubai. This marked win No 50 for the seven-time champion, such a significant notch that Federer wasn’t even aware of it.

“Yeah, I was told on the court,” he said, smiling. “I was like, ‘Woah, 50, a lot of tennis here in Dubai’. I'm very happy. It's a big number. I'm not sure if I'm going to get to 100, let's put it that way.”

Next, he faces in Thursday’s quarter-final Marton Fucsovics, a Hungarian familiar to Federer, and not just because he defeated the world No 35 in straight sets in Melbourne last year.

“I know Marton quite well actually,” Federer said. “He came to Zurich to train with me. He was nice enough to come there. I don't remember how long we spent, but a few days practicing together. We had a great time.

“Then I played him at the Australian Open last year, good match. He's improved. He likes the fast surfaces. He likes to play up in the court. He has the power when required. I think it's going to be definitely a match that's going to test me tomorrow."

Updated: February 27, 2019 10:27 PM

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