Toronto Masters 2014: Federer fights off fierce Ferrer for a 15th time

Toronto Masters 2014: Roger Federer survives a three-set battle against David Ferrer to reach the semi-finals

Roger Federer is through to the last four in Toronto Photo: Marianne Bevis

It wasn’t meant to be quite so tough, this last match of the day—and on Roger Federer’s birthday.

Sure, Novak Djokovic had found the going tough, just as Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych had, in the third round. Andy Murray couldn’t make it past the quarter-finals, and Grigor Dimitrov only got through by the skin of his teeth.

But when it came to Federer’s quarter-final against the feisty 32-year-old, everyone knew the Spaniard would put up a gutsy and whole-hearted fight, just as he has done throughout his long career. But history showed that he was unlikely to have much success. Fourteen times Ferrer had played Federer, and 14 times he had lost.

Yet this big-hearted man in a smaller-than-average package had shown that good things come to those who wait—and work. At the age of 30, he won his first Masters crown in Paris, and last year he reached his first Grand Slam final, also in Paris. Last summer he rose to a new career-high ranking of No3, having—for a short time at least—overtaken Nadal for the only time in his career at the start of 2013.

And to put that into some kind of context, his Masters title was one of only three in the last 39 to have been won by someone other than “the big four”.

And here he was, now with a ‘full house’ of quarter-finals in all nine Masters tournaments, challenging Federer to be the only winner of a Masters crown to reach Toronto’s semi-finals.

And while he had been forced to win in three sets in his first two matches here, Federer had endured the fight of his life to get past Marin Cilic too. Perhaps the last thing he needed, just 20 hours later, was the never-say-die attitude of Ferrer.

It started well enough, with the crowd breaking into a cheery rendition of Happy Birthday when Federer arrived, and it looked still better when he broke Ferrer to love in the first game. But Federer played just as wayward a game on serve, and was broken straight back as he threw in a double fault and netted an easy volley.

Ferrer played himself into form in the third game, fighting off two more break points and getting Federer running the baseline for all he was worth. This was the Ferrer the rest of the tour has come to dread: playing fast, flat, deep ground-stokes to each wing of his opponent’s court.

Federer began to respond, though, and punished Ferrer through four deuces to finally break again, and this time made no mistake on his own serve. Federer raced away, breaking again to take the set 6-3.

All the safe money was now on Federer finishing this off in two sets, though he did come under intense pressure and a break point in the first game. At the change of ends, one game to the good, the whole arena burst into song again, and in such unison that Federer could not ignore it, and he raised his arm in thanks. But it seemed to overwhelm Ferrer, who sprayed errors to give up an immediate break.

But now it was Federer’s turn to be distracted by the crowd, as some rowdy quarters began to shout out mid-point and before serves. Federer double faulted, saw a cracking Ferrer forehand pass him, and netted a forehand to hand the break back.

In truth, this ushered in a strange patch of play, with multiple errors on both sides amid some show-stopping winners. The shot of the match came as Federer served to hold at 3-2, chasing down a lob to make an overhead forehand sliced return from behind the baseline which faded so low over the net that Ferrer could not control his volley. The arena erupted.

But the mood swiftly changed at the end of set, as Federer shanked a backhand on break point. Then receiving Ferrer’s serve, the Swiss hit first a forehand error, then a backhand, followed by two more forehand misses to concede the set, 6-4.

Ferrer continued to press, to chase, and to hit wide and strong. Federer went 0-30 down in the first game of the third but reached a screaming shot wide to his forehand to make what felt like a match-saving angled cross-court return to pass Ferrer chasing to the net.

The two edged through five more games, Ferrer surviving a break point as Federer continued to mix winners with shanks, and now the music began to pick up the vibe, too: first A Hard Day’s Night, next Stayin’ Alive… and that’s what Federer managed to do despite Ferrer’s best efforts: It was ever thus.

A purple patch in the sixth game—now a backhand down-the-line winner, next a chipped return of serve—broke the Spaniard and Federer managed to keep a 5-2 lead as a net-cord took his volley inches into Ferrer’s half.

With his nerves relaxed, Federer served out the match with a couple of aces and a forehand winner, 6-3, after almost two hours of pulsating, see-sawing tennis.

This was the fourth time Ferrer had demanded three sets from Federer in a Masters. It was also the fourth time Federer had won a match on his birthday—though it is doubtful whether he made as many errors to winners in the previous three: 49 to 35 is probably not a level that will win him the title. And he recognized his failings, as well as Ferrer’s resilience.

“I don’t exactly remember when I didn’t serve so well, but maybe I had a couple of loose points, sort of let hem back in. He played it tough. Getting back on even terms was something I could accept, but it was just more the end towards the second set I wasn’t feeling it anymore in my racket.

“It was actually quite similar against Cilic. The end of the second was tough, the beginning of the third was tough. I stayed with him, and then once I did get the breaker, I had my opportunity, I took it. Then I was able, with my emotions, I guess, to find energy and really serve better at the very end, which was key against David because he was, I thought, doing a really good job on my second serve to put me under pressure.”

Federer’s 33rd birthday was over by the time he reached the Media Centre, but he will play another 32-year-old Spaniard in the semis, another old adversary who has pressed him hard in Masters tournaments, Feliciano Lopez. Few will forget their stunning three-tie-breaker in Madrid in 2011. But just like Ferrer, Lopez has yet to beat the Swiss in 10 matches.

However, Lopez is in very fine form, coming here from a great grass-court swing and clearly enjoying the fast courts that suit his serve and volley game. It was good enough, indeed, to beat the home favourite, Milos Raonic, 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-3. Along the way, he fended off a staggering nine break points while serving at 2-2 and then broke the Raonic serve to go up 5-3, and served out an impressive win after two hours.

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