Roger Federer turns on Dubai magic against Feliciano Lopez
World No3 Roger Federer cruises to a 7-5 6-3 victory against Feliciano Lopez of Spain to move into the quarter-finals in Dubai
When the likes of world No7, Tomas Berdych, are consigned to Court One and No8 Mardy Fish to Court Two, you can be sure that the line-up on Centre Court is a show-stopper.
With the last 16 men in Dubai lined up to fight for their quarter-final places, that proved to be an understatement. And with all eight seeds, each of them a top-10 player, still in contention, even Juan Martin del Potro had to give way to better men.
Andy Murray came first, in an altogether more convincing 6-3, 6-4 win over Marco Chiudinelli than his two-hour match against Michael Berrer. It should have been: Murray’s second qualifying opponent in as many days is ranked just 185 in the world.
Next came top seed Novak Djokovic, and the 74-ranked Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky—a highly gifted but unpredictable talent—gave him a more intense workout than expected in a dazzling first set that went to a tie-break. The Serb won it, 7-5, and made lighter work of the second set, 6-3.
On paper, though, it was the opening match of the evening session that looked the most attractive contest.
Roger Federer had beaten Feliciano Lopez in all nine of their previous meetings but they had played some very tight matches—one of them in the 2004 final here in Dubai. And only last year, Lopez came within a gnat’s whisker of beating Federer in one of the matches of the year at the Madrid Masters.
There, the strong, serve-and-volleying Madrilenian pushed the Swiss to three-tie-breaks in a three-hour thriller. Each faced set points in the first-set shoot-out and each produced aces to save them, but Federer took it 15 points to 13.
The second tie-break was all Lopez, which he took it for the loss of just one point. In the third tie-break, too, Lopez led 5-2 before missing an overhead in the floodlights. Federer levelled, saving match point with his 25th ace of the match, and took the set, 9-7, and the match.
On a personal level, the two men have much in common: height, weight, locks tamed by a bandana, and the kind of looks that turn heads of all ages. It doesn’t stop there. Both have point-winning serves, strike a serene single-handed backhand, and have been plying their trade on the pro tour for little short of 15 years.
For Lopez, at just one month younger than Federer, is a member of that growing breed of men enjoying their best form at 30. Not only did he end 2011 in the top 20 for the first time since 2005 but he has this year broken into the top 15 for the first time in his career.
He has, in short, become as formidable a force as ever, especially on surfaces that reward the big serving volleyer. He beat John Isner in five sets at the Australian Open last month, reached last year’s Wimbledon quarters and pushed Djokovic to three sets in Dubai a year ago.
Federer understood the challenge: “I know the danger of Feliciano. He’s had a great season…This is a definitely a good hunting ground for him, so I won’t take anything lightly.”
Things stayed close in the early stages of the match with both men racing to take the initiative at the net via big serving and crisp, short rallies. The pace of one half-volley return from Federer brought a big, wry smile to the usually sombre face of Lopez: a reminder, if the Spaniard needed it, that Federer is one of the few players who can hold his own in the serve-and-volley stakes as well as Lopez.
After seven games, each player had dropped only one point behind their first serve, but that changed in the eighth with two outright winners from the Federer backhand.
Lopez pulled through, only to see Federer take the next game with just five strikes of his racket: four serves and one volley. The pressure was back on the Spaniard’s serve, and it was increasing.
This time Lopez missed a few first serves to face seven deuces and three break points. It was a relieved Spaniard, with a touch of irony in his face, who tossed away his second ball as he held to level at 5-5.
But all too soon, after one speedy game to 15 for Federer, Lopez was serving again and his arm seemed gripped in a vice. Federer broke to take the set, 7-5.
The tactics didn’t change in the second set, but the success of Lopez did. He held up well enough until the eighth game but then missed six straight first serves and paid the price with a break.
He found one more head-shaking smile of resignation on the first point of the final game, a scurrying rally of exhibition shots from both men that, once again, went to Federer.
That preluded three more straight points to Federer and with them the match, 6-3: win No10, and in some style. He faced not a single breakpoint and lost only three points behind his first serve.
In the next match, the Federer single-handed backhand will face another for the third straight match—which must be some kind of record—for he plays another old adversary nearing 30, Mikhail Youzhny. Although a winner last month in Zagreb, Youzhny was still perhaps a surprise winner over Fish in straight sets on the kind of fast surface that the American usually relishes. Now, though, the Russian faces the same uphill task that Lopez faced: not one win in 11 matches against Federer.
Elsewhere, Berdych continued his impressive progress for the loss of only three games against qualifier Lukas Lacko and will take on Murray in the first quarter-final.
Del Potro lost only six games to his own qualifier, Andrey Golubev, for a face-off against the newly-anointed world No5, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the last quarter-final—a contest that will undoubtedly compete with Murray-Berdych as the match of the day.