Tennis

Federer unfazed by earthquake, back

ROLLIN' ROGER
Roger Federer is in the zone in the familiar confines of Indian Wells.
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Richard Evans

Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 150 Grand Slams. He is author of 15 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." Follow him on Twitter.

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INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.

It isn’t easy to knock Roger Federer out of his well-measured stride. Ivan Dodig, a big Croatian ranked No. 60 in the world, couldn’t do it as the Swiss maestro swept him off the Stadium Court 6-3, 6-1 in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open on Monday.

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Nor was Federer concerned by a back twinge that he felt towards the end of the match. A little extra treatment and a dismissive comment, “I’m not too worried. I have gone through it so many times where you feel a little tweak. It’s just something you learn to deal with.”

But the earthquake . . . now that had Federer running out of his rented house. “For the first few seconds, I wasn’t sure what was happening,” said Federer of the 5.1 quake which hit the Coachella Valley just before 10 a.m PT. “I ran outside. I was at the house and I didn’t know how long it was going to last — if it was going to get worse from there or if the worst was already past. Thank God the family (his wife and twin daughters) were outside somewhere. It was a very strange feeling to have.”

It obviously had no effect on his game as the man who holds the record for 17 Grand Slam singles titles gave an appreciative crowd a fine exhibition of his skills as they basked in the desert sunshine. Playing at this ever-improving Indian Wells Tennis Garden is something that Roger obviously loves to do. He is appearing here for the 13th straight year and is the defending champion, having also won the title in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

He has now reached a stage of his career where he's starting to think of tournaments he might like to return to after a long absence or visit for the first time. But there will be no picking and choosing in the immediate future because the meticulous Swiss has his year mapped out, beginning with a five-week lay off for a practice block when he leaves California, which will mean he'll miss Miami next week.

Federer admitted that no schedule is set in stone but that he was really looking forward to practicing at home. “I’m really eager to be practicing really hard, you know,” he said. “It’s something I’ve missed over the past two years. That’s why it’s a priority.”

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It was the Olympics that got in the way of Federer’s customary summer training stint last year and, as he heads towards his 32nd birthday in August, he knows he must pace himself carefully. If that means losing focus as far as trying to regain the world No. 1 spot is concerned, so be it.

“As long as I play well I’m always in with a shot,” said the man who is currently at No. 2 behind Novak Djokovic. “This time around the priorities are on a big build up and coming back strong for Madrid and Rome (in May).”

Rankings mean a little more to Ernests Gulbis right now. The Latvian, who had fallen as low as 139th at the end of last year, completed his 13th straight victory since beginning the qualifying at Delray Beach two weeks ago when he defeated the 20th-seeded Italian Andreas Seppi 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.

That has lifted Gulbis 72 spots to 67th on the ATP computer coming into this event and he will go higher still as a result of reaching the fourth round here. It will be interesting to see what kind of impression this multi-talented performer can make on his next opponent — Rafael Nadal.

The Spaniard received an unexpected, last minute walk-over when Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer withdrew with a back problem. Nadal was taping his fingers in the locker room when he heard he could stand down.

“The same thing happened to him in Sao Paulo,” Nadal said. “So that’s negative and frustrating for him. But that’s sport and when you bring your body to the limit, these kind of things can happen. The important thing is that it is nothing serious and he will be able to be playing soon.”

Nadal will relish the fact that he can give his knees a day off from playing on hardcourts, but he will have to be sharp to handle the super confident Gulbis.

“I believe I can win,” said Gulbis, who has lost to Nadal four times in the past. “Sooner or later I’m going to win something, you know, and it’s going to give me extra confidence. I need to win against guys ranked 20 to 100 easier than I did, let’s say, today. Then I need to have enough shots at the big guys.”

On Wednesday, when temperatures are expected to soar as fast as his ranking, Gulbis will get his chance against ‘a big guy’.

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