Australian Open 2015: ‘Struggling’ Roger Federer falls to Andreas Seppi

Second seed Roger Federer is knocked out of the Australian Open by Italy's Andreas Seppi

There are some things in life that seem as certain as night following day.

Swiss francs and oil shares will always be as safe as houses; the sun will always beat down on Melbourne Park while the rain beats down on England; and Roger Federer will always be around come the semis-finals of the Australian Open.

But in January 2015, the safe money started to look for a new home, the rains fell early on Melbourne while crisp sunshine broke out over London, and Federer failed to reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open for the first time in 11 years, failed even to reach the second week for the first time in 14 years.

The world No2, who bounced into town as one of the favourites for the title on the back of a storming 2014 that garnered five titles, a first Davis Cup and took him to within touching distance of the No1 ranking, who continued to defy his 33 years by beating the new generation’s Milos Raonic to win the Brisbane title, lost to fellow 30-something Andreas Seppi, 6-4, 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-6(5) in almost three hours.

No46 Seppi had won just one set against Federer in 10 meetings and had already taken a hard route to the third round in a challenging section of the draw, taking five sets to beat Denis Istomin and four to beat No29 seed Jeremy Chardy.

But the quiet Italian, a former world No18 and already a semi-finalist in Doha this year, has a fast game, big serves and penetrating forehand, weapons enhanced by the hot conditions and the fast Rod Laver court. He would hit 50 winners to just 40 errors, and attempt to break down the attack of Federer not just with zipping winners but by taking to the net 27 times.

And Federer, unusually, admitted that he had anticipated difficulties: “We had some good matches in the past. He hits a good ball, forehand and backhand, so I knew that on a quicker court where he gets more help on the serve it was potentially going to be more tricky. And I felt for some reason yesterday and this morning it was not going to be very simple today. Even in practice I still felt the same way. I was just hoping it was one of those feelings you sometimes have and it’s totally not true, and you just come out and you play a routine match. Yeah, it was a mistake. And I know the strength of Seppi. Just somehow couldn’t play my best tennis today. It was definitely partially because of Andreas playing very well.”

The statistics would testify to this being far from Federer at his best. It is rare indeed to see nine double faults beneath the Swiss name, and to find 55 unforced errors—which amounted to more than a third of the points credited to Seppi.

Federer’s pre-match concerns translated into a hesitant start for the player, more than any, who comes out of the blocks at full throttle. But it was Seppi who took on the attack, firing at Federer’s backhand and denying the Swiss any rhythm. He broke the Swiss to love for a 5-4 lead and fought off three break-back points to take the first set.

The second set saw Federer broken twice—unusual in itself—though he managed to level at the last moment courtesy of a dead-ball net-cord with Seppi serving at 5-4.

They headed to a tie-break, and it looked as though Federer would right the ship as he took mini-breaks for 4-2 and 5-3, but then lost four points in a row to fall two sets behind.

Still Federer looked neither comfortable nor fluid in the third set. His first serve continued to flounder below 60 percent, and he forced only eight winners past Seppi, most of them at the net. But he managed an early break, enough to pull back one set.

There was no doubting where the crowd’s favours lay, but their hopes were lifted only briefly. Federer again failed to take advantage of a break point—he converted only three from 10 in the match—and they went to another tie-break.

As before, Federer took the early advantage, but blew it with a double fault. The Swiss star’s net game has been one of the highlights of his tennis in recent months, honed as it has been by Stefan Edberg, but he could barely win a point on volley: He made just four from 12 net-plays in this final set, declining to try one more as Seppi made a stunning final forehand pass to steal a famous victory.

Federer was asked about that final point.

“I guess maybe if he hits it normally, maybe yes [I could have taken the volley]. But the way he hits it you think, ‘This can’t possibly land in’. You kind of go—you’re there and you’re like, ‘No, I’m going to let it go’. As you’re telling yourself that, you look behind you, and you already know it’s done, so…”

His words seemed to sum up an uncharacteristically uncertain Federer. He went on to admit he could not put his finger on what went wrong.

“I guess it was just an overall feeling I had today out on the court that I couldn’t really get the whole game flowing. You know, was it backhand? Was it forehand? Was it serve? It was a bit of everything.

“It wasn’t all bad. It’s just when it counted the most somehow it just ended up going his way. I think that was because overall I wasn’t feeling it quite as well. I had to play it a little bit passively at times when normally I would play aggressive… For some reason I struggled.”

Perhaps, in retrospect, that long 2014 campaign finally last caught up with him. After playing and winning more matches than anyone on the tour, he went to Delhi to play in the IPTL, returned to Switzerland for a charity match, and even between winning Brisbane and practising in Melbourne, he diverted to Sydney for an event promoting a quick form of tennis with Lleyton Hewitt. He has subsequently asserted that he intended to take an ‘off-season’ after the Australian Open to compensate, but denied his schedule was the problem here:

“I was actually very happy the way it went, because it allowed me to stay within the rhythm. I was playing very well in practice. I was playing very well in Brisbane. I was playing great in the practice leading into the tournament. So I don’t want to say that I peaked too early… I wanted to go to India. I wanted to go back to Switzerland for Christmas. I practised as hard as I possibly could. Can’t do more than that. At the end of the day, honestly I’m confident that what I did was the right thing.”

The final word, however, goes to Seppi. Not only did this victory end a 10-match losing streak to Federer but also a 23-match losing streak against top-10 opponents. No wonder he was thrilled: “I just tried to do my best and I think it was one of the best matches [of my career].

“After the first set, I felt, ‘I am there, I am hitting the ball very well.’ I started to believe that I can do more. I think the second set tie-break was very important. It worked out pretty well.”

Seppi now plays Nick Kyrgios, who booked his place in the fourth round for the first time when he defeated Malek Jaziri 6-3, 7-6(6), 6-1.

Beyond that lies either Andy Murray, who beat Joao Sousa, 6-1, 6-1, 7-5, or Grigor Dimitrov, who showed huge resilience in beating an on-fire Marcos Baghdatis, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

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