Basel 2013: Federer rolls back the years to halt Dimitrov run
Roger Federer secures a 6-3 7-6(2) victory over Grigor Dimitrov to book his place in the semi-finals of the Swiss Indoors in Basel
There were some interesting statistics surrounding the meeting between Roger Federer and the man a decade his junior, Grigor Dimitrov.
The elder statesman of the Swiss Indoors, born in 1981 and with 14 visits to the Basel tournament to his name, had met 11 men born in the 1990s during his career. His first and only loss to them in 18 matches had come this summer, when struggling with a back injury, to 23-year-old Federico Delbonis.
The latest 1990s player he had to face was the one many had expected him to meet much sooner. Dimitrov had the makings of a young Federer from the time he emulated his idol by winning the junior Wimbledon title at 17. In fact, Dimitrov had played every other man in the current top 10, and had scored wins over three of them: Tomas Berdych twice, Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer. But he had never met Federer.
That their first show-down should be not only on Federer’s home turf but just as Dimitrov was starting to show the fulfilment of all his early promise—his first title came less than week ago—made the match even more tantalizing.
On the line for Federer was not just his home title but qualification for the World Tour Finals for the 12th consecutive time—he had only to win the Basel tournament.
The roaring faithful that packed St Jakobshalle had their hearts in their mouths right form the start, too. Dimitrov had the advantage of serving first, held with a couple of winners and an ace and then cracked two winning returns of serve to put Federer on the back foot and 0-40 down. It seemed, despite the age and experience of the Swiss, that he was the one gripped by nerves.
He pulled back to deuce, only to offer up two more break points with two forehand errors but, despite the pressure, he held. The match was two games old and the arena was already like a volcano about to erupt.
By mid-set, though, Federer had settled, found some rhythm and taken the attack to the energetic Bulgarian. It brought up his first break point and he grabbed it with a net-rushing winner. Now with the lead and crowd chanting him on, the Federer of five previous titles seemed unleashed and he held to love with four winners.
Not surprisingly, in the face of such shot-making and a formidable stadium, Dimitrov double faulted, not once but twice, and Federer jumped on his opponent’s serve to break again for a 6-3 set.
This new-model Dimitrov, though, did not drift away. Instead, it was Federer whose focus drifted and he also double faulted—not once but twice!—in the third game. Dimitrov broke and the arena fell into complete silence.
Slowly, slowly Federer edged his way back into the game. He had to find two aces to hold his next serve but come the seventh, he held to love.
Dimitrov made a very edgy hold, surviving a break point, to go 5-3 and it looked for all the world as though he would ‘do a Federer’ and break again to take the set.
Remarkably, for a second time, the Swiss went 0-40 down but again survived. Not content with that, Federer turned the tables and broke at the second attempt to level the set.
They headed into an appropriately nerve-jangling tie-break, and the wall of sound alone seemed to generate enough energy to lift Federer over the winning line.
Dimitrov lost his first service point and shook his head in frustration, buried his face in his hands to berate himself, then turned to the court to hold his second serve.
But it all proved too much. Federer raced to a 5-1 lead with a stunning return of serve at Dimitrov’s feet and the Bulgarian won just a single point more.
“It was a bit of a rocky up and down match from both sides: definitely entertaining for the crowds, no doubt about that,” said Federer afterwards.
“It was not a great game to be broken early in the second set, having broken him twice to win the first set, and then gift him a break. Very unlike me but happy to still find a way out of those matches right now, it’s important for me.”
So Federer had managed to defy the hype, the decade age difference, the contrasting seasons thus far to advance to the semis yet again, his 50th win in Basel.
He faces another young gun who idolised him as teenager, Vasek Pospisil, in the next round and that, too, will be a big test: The Canadian played him once before, two years ago, and pushed him hard, 7-5, 6-3.
If Basel and its people have any say at all, though, Federer will not just survive the latest in this new generation but will go all the way to the title and onwards to London once again.
MORE: Grigor Dimitrov finally faces Roger Federer – but aims to be his own man