Will Federer Retire to Doubles

By Jane Voigt

October 7, 2013 -- When Roger Federer goes to pasture at least he will be greeted by a cow, the latest one a gift from the tournament at Gstaad in July. 

It is certainly not the only thing awaiting the man many have been pushing to retire. Of course his family will be there and who knows, perhaps a lovely red-clay court lined for doubles will present itself front and center. 

Today in Shanghai, Federer made a good case for an unlikely future of doubles whether on or off tour. He paired with China's No. 1 Ze Zhang and entered the only ATP Masters 1000 in Asia -- The Shanghai Rolex Masters -- as a wildcard. 

They stormed Dimitri Tursunov and Kevin Anderson 62 61 in 48 minutes. The Russian and South African acted like the two singles players they are, missing opportunities left and right, which set the stage for Federer and Zhang to shine. They actually showed off, with Zhang gaining inspiration from his famous teammate as the match progressed.

Federer has not played a tournament since the U. S. Open on that dismal day he lost badly to Tommy Robredo for the first time in their 11 meetings. For Federer to play doubles as a re-entry match opened the door for comments from all sides of the tennis coin. Better for him to get a match under his belt before the big boys try to take him down in singles, the sentiment went. 

But, Federer's intentions differed from these implications. He was looking to give back to tennis.

"That's kind of the ultimate goal, to partner up with a Chinese up-and-coming player and promote the game at the same time," Federer said, as posted by the ATP. 

Kei Nishikori is the most recognized player from Asia. Ranked No. 18, he has lifted the sport of tennis to greater heights in Japan, his home. Qualifiers Go Soeda and Ito Tatsuma are fellow countrymen entered this week, too. Tatsuma's time was cut short today, however, as he was defeated by Gaels Monfils. Soeda plays the No. 15 seed Nicolas Almagro tomorrow. 

Twenty-three year old Zhang Ze is the best player China has on tour, although he is not the only one. He is ranked No. 271 and turned pro in 2005. He is 'the first male Chinese player to enter Grand Slam tournaments,' notes the ATP in his bio. In 2010, he became Chinese champion in singles and doubles. In other words, this guy is a tennis hero at home. 

Additional Chinese players at Shanghai this week are: wildcards Di Wu and Mao-Xin Gong. Di Wu is ranked No. 244 and lost today to German Florian Mayer. Gong is scheduled to play another German, Philip Kohlschreiber tomorrow. Ze Zhang will fact Fernando Verdasco. 

Stepping on center court with Roger Federer raised his recognition rating a thousand percent, if such a thing could be monitored. Watching from half-way around the world -- Shanghai is 12 hours ahead of America's east coast -- Zhang's sense of pride was almost palpable. 

Immediately after the win, Roger greeted him warmly. They strolled to the net with Roger's arm around Ze's shoulder. The camera viewed them from the back, which was perfect. They had played well -- well enough to get the first round win -- and Zhang had broken the ice for the tournament and his country alongside Roger Federer, the tennis icon. Federer acted as the quintessential tennis diplomat. 

"I'm just happy for Zhang Ze, that he played really well. I really am, because he couldn't have played any better," Federer said. 

Federer also would like to see more Asian players rise to the surface and follow the lead most prominently carved by Li Na. "Hopefully we'll have more and more players coming up," he said, as reported by the ATP. "By having such a great tournament and all the top players coming here to Shanghai, I think that's only going to help it. I think we all really want something to happen in a big way in the the next 10, 20 years here."

With his comments leaning decisively toward public relations, a retirement to the doubles side of things does not seem imminent for Federer. John Isner, finalist at this year's Citi Open in Washington D. C., thought that Federer would not move to doubles as a way to exit the sport. Juan Martin del Potro felt the same way. 

As far as his singles game, Federer remains upbeat, although his ranking remains at No. 7 and seeding at #5 this week. He has spent the weeks between the Open and Shanghai practicing in Switzerland and Dubai where he has a home. A prominent short-term goal for Federer is the year-ending Barclay World Tour Championships.  

"It was the goal at the beginning of the season to qualify for [London]," the ATP reported. "I consider it the absolute best of the best tournaments out there, so I want to be part of that." Federer has won this prestigious event a record six times. 

Federer will play either wildcard Lleyton Hewitt or Andreas Seppi in his first-round singles match Wednesday.  

Tennis Channel did not broadcast Federer's doubles match today. Instead, it opted to show the single's final from the 2012 Shanghai Rolex Masters between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, which the Serb won. Maybe its decision was based on Djokovic's victory over Rafael Nadal in the finals at Beijing Sunday, the Spaniard's first hard-court loss of the season. Or, maybe it wanted to highlight the defending champion, paving the way for more prominence in the press although he was usurped by Nadal today at No. 1 in the world. The truth will never be known; however, even with Federer's name an international household word -- in and out of sports -- it did not rise to the necessary heights of must see TV, as far as Tennis Channel producers were concerned. Was Ze Zhang's name a distraction for viewers and advertisers? Could be. Tennis Channel, though, might want to look at its broadcast objectives and start adding more diplomatic criteria to its decision mix. 




© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013