x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Sixth Dubai win proves Federer is back to flexing muscle in the tennis world

I am playing top tennis, says the Swiss after a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Berdych takes him to third place in the all-time winners list. Ahmed Rizvi reports from Dubai.

Roger Federer was slow off the blocks and lost the first set, but avenged his last year’s final loss to Tomas Berdych in Dubai.  Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters
Roger Federer was slow off the blocks and lost the first set, but avenged his last year’s final loss to Tomas Berdych in Dubai. Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters

DUBAI // Speaking before the start of the second week of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Roger Federer faced the usual questions about his withering form and slipping status in the men’s tennis hierarchy.

“I feel my best tennis is around the corner,” the 32-year-old Swiss responded. Then he paused, perhaps sensing those rolling, have-we-not-heard-this-before, eyes.

“I know I’ve said that a few times, but this time I really feel it’s the case,” he said. “I am confident for the year ahead. I am playing top tennis, my goal is to add more titles to my count – and not just grand slam titles.”

Not many took him for his words on Sunday, and there must have been a few sneers around the globe as the world No 8 laboured to a three-set victory over an ageing Radek Stepanek on Wednesday.

But after his victories over Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych in the past two days, cynics penning his tennis obituary will have to wait. Both Berdych and Djokovic had got the better of the ageing star in recent matches.

The Czech had won the past two and had even picked Federer as his preferred opponent for the final; Djokovic had won three on the trot.

Both had outplayed Federer in the opening set, winning by the same 6-3 scoreline. But in both matches, Federer showed a new resoluteness. He floated around court in the semis, moving as he used to in his halcyon days, and was not as fluent last night.

But he remained determined and turned the script around for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win.

“It has been a tough match clearly and Tomas had the advantage,” Federer said.

“He could and maybe should have brought it home. I guess I got a little lucky at times, but I fought well and I couldn’t be more happy with the outcome.

“I stayed calm, and then I think once I got back on even terms I really started to play better. I really enjoy playing against Tomas. He’s a great player and he’s had a great streak as well, winning Rotterdam and reaching the semis of the Australian Open, so I wish Tomas all the best for the coming weeks.”

Berdych was on an 11-match winning streak – the longest of his career – coming into the final, but he failed to stop Federer from winning his sixth title in Dubai and 78th overall.

“He’s the greatest player of all time, really,” said the disappointed Berdych. “He will never give up and just give you anything for free. So, of course, I knew that.

“I was ready for it, but really my execution was not good enough to hold it till the end.”

The victory has taken the 17-time grand slam champion past John McEnroe (77 singles titles) on the ATP Tour’s all-time winners list. Only Jimmy Connors (109 titles) and Ivan Lendl (94) remain ahead of him. Among current players, the next best is Rafael Nadal with 62.

Federer will be more pleased with some other stats so far this year. In a disappointing 2013, he had only four wins against top 10 players.

He has matched that number in the first 60 days of this year, with victories over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray in his run to the Australian Open semis, and Djokovic and Berdych in Dubai. Last year, he also had just one title, Halle in June.

“Sometimes I have been disappointed with my play when it really mattered,” Federer said. “Today and yesterday [against Djokovic], I was able to deliver when I had to. Same against Stepanek in the third when things got tough there against me as well. I was able to come up with the goods. It’s one of those tournaments I kind of need this way right now.

“Man, I was missing shots out there like I was totally out of sorts, and conditions were as good as they could have been. It’s like that was a mental win for me tonight.”

arizvi@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter at SprtNationalUAE