Wednesday, 23 April 2008
A champion's performance
I’ve just watched the re-run of Federer v Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo. What an extraordinary match. What an extraordinary performance from Federer, who once again highlighted that being a great champion requires more than just a great game and pretty strokes.
You need balls, a ferocious will to win, and unbelievable mental strength. As the old saying goes, tennis is all in the head.
Federer cruised through the first set 6 – 1 and was in complete control. If anything it was too easy and his concentration slipped in the second and he let Hidalgo back in the game.
And credit where it’s due, Hidalgo then played out of his skin to not only take the second 6 – 3 but also go 5 – 1 in the third. He was matching and beating Federer shot for shot.
It was then that Federer proved his resilience on court is second to none as he rallied from 5 – 1 to bring the score back to 5- 4, with Hidalgo serving for the match. At 30 all Federer held his nerve in a lengthy rally to force a break point.
It then became apparent that Hidalgo simply did not believe he could win. His head let him down and he doubled faulted to hand Federer the game. The next two games went with serve and then Federer steam-rollered Hidalgo in the tie break 7 - 1.
Must have been a crazy mixture of emotions for Hidalgo. He’d pushed the world’s No 1 all the way to the brink but somehow let victory slip through his fingers, even though he was only two points away on two occasions.
Federer looked totally spent at the end and it will be interesting to see what the effect of today’s performance is. He’s clearly not yet recovered his full fitness. For the past five years he’s not just been the world’s greatest tennis player, he’s (arguably) been the world’s greatest athlete.
Getting that extreme level of conditioning back will take time. What remains unclear is whether he can use the clay season – the toughest stretch of the year - to play his way to fitness.
I guess tomorrow’s match with Monfils will give us a good idea.
You can watch the highlights below