Winning for the fourth time in his hometown of Basel — as he did Sunday with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 win over Novak Djokovic —will send Roger Federer off to Paris with just the kind of boost the Swiss needs in a city that has not always seen him at his scintillating best.
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True, his victory in the French Open last year was one of the most satisfying of his career, but too often he has been frustrated by the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, at Roland Garros, while at the other end of the city in the ATP Masters Series Indoor event, which is where he will be playing this week, Federer has one of his worst records at any big tournament.
Three quarterfinals in seven appearances at the Omnipalais at Bercy has been the most he has had to offer, and an improvement on that dismal record would send him off to London for the ATP World Finals in much better heart.
The fact that Nadal has pulled out of Bercy with what, one hopes, is a minor arm injury, will have done Federer’s chances no harm, although he would always back himself against the world No. 1 indoors. Nadal, being the pro he is, was in Paris to say, “I’m sorry for the tournament, I’m sorry for the fans. I am here to explain. That’s the minimum I have to do, I think.” Nadal said that his doctor had told him the tendonitis in his arm could get worse if he had played here. “No, I’m not worried about playing in London. See you there!”
Perhaps, the most important thing from Federer’s point of view is that he has proved the doubters wrong once again by bouncing back in the second half ofthe year with four titles, including a Masters Series win in Cincinnati.
Federer’s form in the past few weeks has shown once again he still has a huge appetite for the game. He reached the final of the Masters Series in Shanghai before losing to Andy Murray and then flew over the Pole to claim his first victory at the Stockholm Open. And now this impressive third-set demolition of Djokovic gains a little revenge over the Serb, who beat him in the Basel final last year. It will be strange, given this rich vein of form, if Federer does not do well in front of his adoring French fans.
Murray is another top player who has yet to offer his best at Bercy. He, too, has only managed to get as far as the quarters, but that win in Shanghai – his second Masters Series title of the year – will offer the confidence to do better, despite losing early to Juan Monaco in Valencia last week.
Murray will have forgotten that loss amid the pleasure of having helped his elder brother, Jaime, to the Valencia doubles title, which the Scottish brothers won Sunday with an upset victory against one of the world’s most experienced doubles combinations, Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi. The Murrays won it, 7-6, 5-7, 10-7 – a nice wedding present, you might say, from his brother for Jaime, who got married a week ago.
It obviously meant a lot to the younger sibling. “For me, it was one the best weeks I’ve had on tour, for sure,” he said on arriving in Paris. “It was the first time I’ve won with Jamie so it was really special. We played really well the whole week. I’m sure if you asked the Bryans or the Williams sisters they would tell you winning with someone from your family is really special. It’s the first time I’ve experienced it. I loved it.”
Unusually, there are still three places up for grabs in the eight-man field for the Finals at London’s 02 Arena, and Andy Roddick will be hoping desperately he can clinch one of them after being forced to miss last year’s event by injury.
Although the American is in eighth position at the moment, he will feel confident of making it for two good reasons. First, Roddick missed the tournament last year, so any points he earns will be additions to his computer ranking. And, just as important, his rivals have to excel if any of them want to overtake him.
Fernando Verdasco, in ninth position, must reach the semifinals at least to have a chance of making London. Mikhail Youzhny, who is not properly fit in any case, must get to the final, and the ever-determined Austrian left-hander, Jurgen Melzer, who has been enjoying his best season, has to win the title to become a surprise presence in the Finals.
So maybe Roddick, who began the year brightly by winning Miami but has struggled since, can end it on a happier note.