Evergreen Roger Federer and Philipp Kohlschreiber continue Halle hopes
Roger Federer beats Malek Jaziri in straight sets to set up a quater-final against David Goffin at the Gerry Weber Open
For two players in particular at this week’s Gerry Weber Open in Halle, the grass of green and pleasant Westphalia must feel like coming home.
Roger Federer lives just over the border in the cosmopolitan Swiss-German city of Basel, while Philipp Kohlschreiber, born and bred in Germany, also lives over the border in Kitzbühel, Austria. But between them, they have played and won on Halle’s grass for many years—often against one another.
They do, indeed, go back a long way—perhaps not surprising with Federer hitting his 35th birthday this summer and Kohlschreiber his 33rd in the autumn. Not surprising, either, that they have become friends along the way, and can often be found practising against one another ahead of tournaments.
It was, though, in Halle that they played their first main-tour match against one another, back in 2005. It was the German’s first appearance, Federer’s sixth, and the first of four meetings there over the years. The Swiss won, as he has done in every one of their 11 meetings, but last year Kohlschreiber came closer to beating the Swiss than at any time in his career: Federer edeged their first-round tussle, 7-6(5), in the deciding set.
But for all the one-sidedness of the Federer-Kohlschreiber relationship, both have become imprinted on Halle’s grass. Try these numbers: first Federer.
The Swiss is playing for the 14th time at Halle over 17 years, and more than a third of Federer’s 145 grass-court match-wins have come here: Now 53-5.
He has won a record eight titles and reached two more finals in those 13 previous visits, and today extended his winning streak to 15.
He was aiming, against Malek Jaziri, to reach at least the quarters in all 14 visits—and was aged just 18 when he reached the first.
As for grass, Federer stands head and shoulders above every other man in the Open era with 15 titles: Next in line is Andy Murray with six.
Kohlschreiber, for his part, is one of the most elegant and nimble players on the tour and, like Federer, boasts a single-handed backhand of power and subtlety. He has barely left the top 30 since 2007, and went as high as No16 in the year he reached his only Grand Slam quarter-final—at Wimbledon, of course.
For his flexible all-court game, with its swinging serve, sliced backhand, and deft net touch, is as suited to the green stuff as his friend’s is, even though he has never reached Federer’s heights. And nowhere has the German’s grass skill been more in evidence than in Halle.
He won the title in 2011 as well as being runner-up to Federer in 2008, and this year is playing the tournament for the 12th consecutive season: A 28-10 record.
Remarkable as it seems, his second-round match would be the Kohlschreiber’s 10th consecutive day on grass, as he worked his way through a rain-delayed Stuttgart, in doubles and singles—playing the singles final from Sunday through to Monday. He headed straight to Halle where he opened Tuesday in doubles and Wednesday with singles. Would he make it 11 days in a row?
After failing by a hair’s breadth to get past Federer in his opener last year, the German ran the gauntlet of the formidable Ivo Karlovic in the second round, a man ranked only three places lower than himself, and with two wins from their four previous matches.
The 6ft 11in man from Croatia—measuring over a foot more than Kohlschreiber—is a serving machine, and nowhere are his deliveries more potent than on fast, slick courts like Halle’s. He is one of the toughest men to break, so when a set heads to a tie-break, as seven of theirs had done before, it is often bad news.
Surprisingly, though, the smaller man had won three of them, but he would not take the first of this match, 6-7(7).
But while Karlovic served up 26 aces, Kohlschreiber hit nine, and so smart and varied were his serves that he dropped only 12 points in 86 with the balls in his hand. Indeed the German did not face a break point in their two-and-a-quarter hour tussle, but broke Karlovic in each of the remaining sets, 6-4, 7-5.
The win took him to a career 385, the third-most by a German, and a quarter-final contest against Dominic Thiem, the young man he faced in both his finals this year. Thiem may have beaten him to the Stuttgart title on Monday but Kohlschreiber won in Munich last month.
But Thiem aside—and he has more match-wins than anyone on the tour this year, and a title on each surface—the bottom half of the draw has opened up nicely, with David Ferrer losing in the first round and No2 seed Kei Nishikori withdrawing with injury before his second match.
So could it be, after that first-round meeting last year and title face-off in 2008, that a title bout between Federer and Kohlschreiber looms in Halle?
For Federer, despite Halle being only his sixth tournament of the year, and this his just his 20th match after surgery, illness and back problems decimated his schedule, did indeed settle onto Halle’s grass in style. There were still signs of the rust that plagued his Stuttgart return, but he survived an aggressive Malek Jaziri, 6-3, 7-5, despite going 4-1 down in the second set.
Federer has been pragmatic about his expectations after missing so much of the season, including the French Open, but has also made little secret that Wimbledon, where he is a seven-time champion and runner-up for the last two years, is one of his biggest priorities this year. And the spring of the grass seems to have boosted those expectations.
“The hope before Stuttgart and Halle was that, No1, I can play both. I was considering skipping one of them to give myself an extra week, but at the end, I said, ‘No let’s go for it’… And then I said, if I can play two to three matches in Stuttgart, that’s already really good. And then if I can play a couple more here maybe, that’s great. So, basically I already achieved my initial goal from two, three, four weeks ago… This would have been my hope going into Wimbledon. So, now whatever comes is a plus. I hope I’m going to be good at Wimbledon.”
First things first: Federer next faces David Goffin, who was trailing Sergiy Stakhovsky until the Ukrainian fell awkwardly late in the second set. After medical treatment, Stakhovsky retired at 2-0 in the third.
After Goffin, the next two seeds in Federer’s half , Tomas Berdych and Viktor Troicki, have also lost. But aside from the in-form Belgian, who is riding at a career-high ranking after two big semi finishes in Miami and Indian Wells and a quarter-final run at Roland Garros, there is Alexander Zverev, the fast-rising teenager with a big serving game well suited to grass. Also at a career-high after reaching his first final in Nice, he gave Federer a run for his money in Rome—though the Swiss star’s back was a concern.
So youth in the shape of Thiem and Zverev could yet thwart a reunion between Federer and Kohlschreiber in the title match—but that will not stop the Halle faithful from hoping.