Shanghai Masters 2019: Roger Federer survives Goffin test to set quarter-final against Zverev

Tsitsipas, Berrettini and Fognini maintain charge to ATP Finals qualification

Roger Federer (Photo: Marianne Bevis)
Roger Federer (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

Things are hotting up nicely in Shanghai. Not only did 13 of the 16 original seeds reach their allotted third-round, but with just three spots remaining for the ATP Finals line-up, every win carried huge weight.

For the next man in the ranks, No6 Stefanos Tsitsipas, the urgency was perhaps not quite as great: He was almost 1,000 points clear of the next in line, Roberto-Bautista Agut in seventh place. And the young Greek would hold his place with a gutsy win over Hubert Hurkacz in a final-set tie-break. Next up, defending champion Novak Djokovic.

But between Bautista Agut, who is in pursuit of his first ever qualification for London, and the next six men, there were just 340 points. To give some context to that gap, anyone progressing to the final would add another 510 points to their cause—910 should they win the title.

Indeed, if anyone currently in the top 16 in the Race to London won the title, it could be enough to take them past Bautista Agut and into the qualification zone.

Sitting rather precariously at No8 in the pecking order was the ATP Finals defending champion, Alexander Zverev, who took on one of the three non-seeds, but make no mistake: Andrey Rublev promised a formidable test—tall, young, and close to his highest ranking of 31 at the start of last year.

Were it not for wrist and back injuries since that assault on the top-30, Rublev would quite possibly be rubbing shoulders with compatriots Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev in the top 10. As it is, he had beaten both Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem since the summer, and the No12 seed Borna Coric in Shanghai.

If Zverev was to lose to Rublev, he would slip from the top eight, replaced by No9 David Goffin or No10 Matteo Berrettini, and by the time he took to court, the latter had kept up that pressure—and undermined Bautista Agut’s campaign—by beating the Spaniard.

But could Goffin also press his case? After all, he played Federer, who had won nine of their 10 matches. However, that one win was significant, a glittering performance at the ATP Finals just under two years ago that took the Belgian to the final, having endured an ankle accident during the French Open.

His 2018 season looked rosy until a freak accident at Rotterdam—a ball into his eye—as good as ended his season until the arrival of clay, and then he suffered an elbow injury to wipe out the end of the year.

At last, his prodigious talent, speed and fitness came together again this year, he notched up his first Wimbledon quarter-final, his first Masters final and a rise from 33 in mid-summer to a current 14 and—more importantly—to the cusp of the London qualification.

And he would press Federer to limits through almost two hours.

The Swiss began well, a love hold, but in the third game, Goffin kept him on his toes, passing him at the net, then drawing a volley error for deuce.

Federer had to find a half volley from the top drawer to avoid a break point, but the nimble Belgian was all over the baseline, firing forehands to the extreme corners, and eventually he got his reward, eight minutes into the game: a break chance. It took six deuces, but Federer eventually aced to hold.

The Swiss was struggling to contain the speed and reactions of Goffin, and even two double faults in the fourth game did not open the door. However, it injected more intensity into Federer’s next game, a love hold with some pin-point strikes from the baseline.

But again, he was under heavy pressure in the ninth game, outpaced and forced into errors, breathing heavily: Two more deuces, and finally a hold. Goffin’s stats on serve were out-shining Federer’s, and another love hold put Federer up to the line again in under a minute.

Against the run of play, it was Federer who earned the first set point, with a forehand pass down the line, but now Goffin came to the net to finish—successfully—and held. He then turned the tables on Federer with a vengeance. He was rushing the Swiss, playing with pace and precision, and even brought Federer to his knees as he passed him to break, 6-5.

Goffin had three chances to serve out the set, but a double fault and then a rare error, and Federer took advantage: He broke back. It would take a tie-break, and the safe money should have been on the fresher-looking Goffin, for Federer was sweating and breathing heavily, unable to impose his forward game on the Belgian.

And sure enough, uncharacteristic errors peppered the Swiss start—a double fault, then a netted volley. Goffin led 5-2, Federer closed to 5-5, but the Belgian brought up a fourth and fifth set point, only to miss the sideline and offer up set point to Federer—who served big and finished with his 15th winner of the match, 7-6(7).

Federer had made 27 errors in the 70 minutes played, won only nine points from 16 net attempts, and looked the more exhausted of the two. They had played over 100 points, and ended the set with exactly the same, 53 apiece.

Both saved break points at the start of the second set, and Goffin saved another in the fifth game, courtesy of a 35th error from Federer. But could the Belgian do so again in the seventh?

The answer, helped by a slight clip of the net, was no: Federer stole the break, 4-3, and now with all the momentum, he took back control at the net in his preferred style, and held to love. He would, to the delight of a packed, red-saturated stadium, serve out the win 6-4, to set a quarter-final against Zverev.

The 22-year-old Zverev, a full 16 years younger than his idol Federer, pounded through Rublev in stunning style, leading 6-0, 3-0, only for the younger man to break back, and force a tie-break. But Zverev finally won through, 7-6(3), to set a first rematch since Zverev beat Federer in the semis of the ATP Finals a year ago. With the young German finding his best form—and he is a three-time Masters champion—it will be another tough test for the former Shanghai champion.

Race to London [including Round 3 points Shanghai]

1 Rafael Nadal 9,225 [qualified]

2 Novak Djokovic 7,945 [qualified]

3 Roger Federer 5,690 [qualified]

4 Daniil Medvedev 5,055 [qualified]

5 Dominic Thiem 4,525 [qualified]

6 Stefanos Tsitsipas 3,550

7 Roberto Bautista Agut 2,485

8 Alexander Zverev 2,435

9 Matteo Berrettini 2,365

10 David Goffin 2,325

11 Fabio Fognini 2,235

12 Kei Nishikori 2,180 [not playing]

13 Gael Monfils 2,170

14 Diego Schwartzman 1,860

15 John Isner 1,760

16 Karen Khachanov 1,695

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