Rosy glow to Federer’s record-breaking tally in Toronto
The ATP has titled him the Pink Predator. It is Roger Federer, back on court, breaking records, and showing that real men really can wear pink -even the sugared-almond version.
It’s a first for the sophisticated Swiss. He’s worn flame, azure, taupe, tangerine, and various shades of sky blue, his favoured colour.
At Wimbledon, it’s always head-to-toe white leavened with the odd touch of gold. But pink: it’s very rare in the men’s tour, and has never graced the Federer back anywhere but on the practice courts. Safe to say he’s a man who’s confident in his skin.
And safe to say that he opened his US Open Series campaign with some confidence considering he’s not played a competitive match in six weeks.
Not surprisingly, after such an extended break, he looked a little rusty against Juan Ignacio Chela in a first set that went to 9-7 in a tie break. The second set was altogether more fluid and confident, with Federer breaking his opponent twice to take the set 6-3 and the match in an hour and 20 minutes.
A bonus for Federer was the Andre Agassi record that came with it. Federer and Nadal were vying, back in the clay season, to take Agassi’s record of 17 Master titles. Nadal won all three of the clay Masters and the record.
Now Federer has taken his revenge, and some record it is: 210 Masters match wins against 65 losses. Agassi’s record was 209 to 73, followed by Sampras on 190 to 70. But coming up on the rails is the ever-present Nadal. Already on 180 wins, he has lost just 35. One feels it is only a matter of time until he takes this record too.
Nadal does not launch his campaign in Toronto until Wednesday night when he takes on Stanislas Wawrinka. The Swiss had an easy win in his first match but has not shone of late. He is another player working with a new coach after a lifetime with one man. It is hard to see him regrouping enough to trouble Nadal, who has one more target in the Rogers Cup. He is going for his third title here, just as the title’s namesake is.
Elsewhere, No2 seed and 2007 winner Novak Djokovic faced Julien Benneteau, but he was clearly suffering with the oppressive conditions, as he has done many times before. He is, of course, a master shot-maker, able to win points with disguise, pace and flair.
On form, and in prime condition, he is as dangerous as his ranking suggests. But in this opening match, he called on the trainer twice for no particular injury but rather for a pervasive lassitude that seems at odds with his athletic game and physique.
He won, in two sets and two-and-a-quarter hours, but in this condition he will struggle if he gets as far as a semi against Federer or Tomas Berdych.
David Nalbandian, swiftly back in action after his long three-setter against the gritty David Ferrer, soon dispatched another Spaniard, Tommy Robredo. It might have been a match that glittered with touch and variety, but Robredo had no response to a Nalbandian back in Washington form: penetrating, determined, confident. It was a master-class in which he pinned the net-attacking Robredo a metre behind the baseline.
The test goes up a level in the next round when the Argentine meets Robin Soderling. The Swede’s game grew rapidly against the tough Ernests Gulbis, and that bodes ill for every single man in the draw. On hard fast courts, he is even more dangerous than on the clay of Roland Garros, where he made the final.
There was some relief for a couple of top players who have been battling with poor form this season. No6 Nikolay Davydenko, who missed several months with a wrist fracture, has failed to match his scintillating turn-of-the-year record, but won through his second round match comfortably.
Fernando Verdasco, who seems to have been fighting a crisis of confidence in recent months, won through a first round three-setter to face Jeremy Chardy overnight. He has looked more jaded as the weeks have passed, and must be long odds to win in Toronto or to make an impact at the US Open.
Mikhail Youzhny was less fortunate. Despite a runaway first set of 6-1, he was pushed to the limits in a marathon two-and-a-half hour match, conceding 7-5 in the final set to Alexandr Dolgopolov. The Ukrainian is a man to watch, having put on around 150 ranking points in just a year. Now at 45, the 21-year-old is clearly on a mission to reach the top 20 before the year is out.
Defending champion Andy Murray’s opening match was a reassuring one after an underwhelming performance at Los Angeles a couple of weeks back. He took a late wild card there and got some useful match practice that has obviously given him both confidence and momentum for Toronto.
He played a very resilient and attacking match against a Xavier Malisse in a game of outstanding quality. The Murray reactions looked sharp and the timing spot-on in a solid straight sets win.
Things are looking good for the British No1, and they will need to in this quarter of the draw. Next up is Gael Monfils, then either Soderling or Nalbandian. Thus far, he looks as good as any of them.