By Jane Voigt
Roger Federer just won’t go away. Into his 6th semifinal of the season at Indian Wells, the father of two with another expected soon seems to have reached back in time and rejuvenated his spirited self of yesteryear.
And we did doubt him.
Month after month of mediocre results in 2013 sunk Federer’s ranking, confidence and fans’ confidence as well. He wore Nike Pro shirts to support his ailing back. But he went on. After it was over, he intimated that, indeed, his back was bothersome, that he should have stopped, that the new bigger racquet test compounded his struggles. A perfect storm for Mr. PeRFect, as the placards read.
“Look, last year was difficult,” Federer told the press yesterday. “I’m happy playing enough matches where, you know, you feel like you have momentum, you have some confidence because last year wasn’t always the case. So I think just things are easier now, and I’m able to take advantage of the fact that I’m just healthy.”
Federer has not dropped a set the entire tournament. When he plays Alexandr Dolgopolov Saturday, it will be Roger’s 8th Indian Wells semifinal and Dolgopolov’s first.
Nicolas Kiefer booted Federer in the first round in 2001, his inaugural visit to the Coachella Valley. Four years later he won the title, defeating Tim Henman. Federer won again in 2005, 2006, and 2012. In 2013, a resurgent Rafael Nadal walloped Federer 64 62 in the quarterfinals.
“It’s nice proving it to myself and the team and my fans that they can still count on me,” Federer said, the ATP reported. “It’s nice giving yourself opportunities to win a tournament, no doubt about that.”
His year has been a tear. No constrained schedule. His title from Dubai in late February capped off a satisfying run that started in Brisbane at the end of December. His loss to Lleyton Hewitt in the final was somewhat of a shock to tennis, however. At the Australian Open he defeated Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Andy Murray, and lost to Nadal in the semifinals. But Federer dismissed yet another loss to the Spaniard through his polished press manners.
“I think it’s all happening so quickly now,” Federer began, the ATP reported. “Especially the finals in Brisbane. Then, right away, to beat who I did and keep momentum going with Dubai and now here and Davis Cup. I played a lot of tennis this year.”
Federer is second to Nadal in Masters 1000 Shields, with 21. If Federer wants his 22nd, he will have to keep his serve moving in the direction it’s going … up. Against Kevin Anderson yesterday, Federer won 78% of points when his first serve went in and 88% on his second serve. Both are phenomenally high, especially in a tournament littered with poor serving stats. He took huge swipes on second serves from Anderson, who can uncork monsters at six-foot-nine. Second return points won by Federer: 68%.
“There is a sense of calmness to my game right now. Also confidence,” Federer said, during the same press conference. “But also that grit and wanting to win badly feeling is out there, which was hard to find at times last year. So now I got it all.”
His opponent, Dolgopolov, will bring a spirited game of his own to the semifinal. During the tournament, he lead a team of fellow players in a YouTube plea for peace in Ukraine, his home. In addition to his national spirit, ‘Dolgo’ will challenge Federer’s serve. He won 90% of points on his first serve against Milos Raonic (No. 10) in yesterday’s quarterfinal.
Raonic served rockets. One was clocked at 145 M.P.H., which Dolgopolov returned. When they met at the net, Raonic made an unseemly remark about that return. Alex took it in stride, smiling.
“You know, he serves really big and I knew I had to return well,” Alex began. “I’m quite pleased how I anticipated on his serve.”
Dolgopolov is a gifted athlete. He is lightening fast and unconventional. He pounces on short balls and swings for the stands. His shots are well disguised, too. But against Federer?
“What can I say? What make him special? Maybe 17 Grand Slams? Still it doesn’t matter how old is he now, he’s still winning tournaments and conquering the best. I mean what can I say?”
The Mighty Federer and Dolgo face off tomorrow at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Stadium One at high noon.