In Gstaad, Roger Federer falls victim to Daniel Brands – and his back. Ten days before the start of the US Hardcourt season. His participation in Montreal is at risk.
The surprise about the commitment was big, the enthusiasm about his return was bigger. But the real party didn’t last long: After 65 minutes, Roger Federer’s return to the court, on which his professional career started in 1998, was already history. At least for this year. The almost 32-year old from Basel lost his first match against Daniel Brands 3-6, 4-6. In the end, what remained was a disappointed Federer, a bewildered audience, and a lot of question marks.
Brands is, mainly because of his hard serve, an uncomfortable opponent. At Roland Garros, the 25-year-old German took a set from the eventual winner Rafael Nadal. Federer himself also dropped a set in their first meeting last week in Hamburg. But this time, the German was not just uncomfortable (as an opponent), but also the better player. With 11 aces and 78 percent first serves, he made good on his reputation as a great server. All the while, he also regularly scored points from rallies.
Federer had five break points, but couldn’t break the German’s serve. In his first return to the Berner Oberland in nine years, he played like a normal player. The magic of earlier days, when he used to find a way to win even when his game wasn’t clicking and his opponents were getting the better of him, seems gone.
Brands, ranked #55, didn’t even have to grow beyond his skills. He appeared surprised himself after the match about how he got to this victory. However, there is a reason for Federer’s pale appearance: The back pain, which had troubled him in March in Indian Wells, is back. Last week in Hamburg it already bothered him. “This week, it got a little better each day. I only made the definitive decision to play today after the warm-up.”
At least regarding this match, the effort wasn’t worth it. Federer is making an effort not to give too much relevance to the ailment. From the start, his back was his weakness. “Before, the pain used to come, and then disappear rather quickly. Now, it isn’t worse, but it stays around longer.” Certain wear, says Federer, is normal after a career like his. He’s trying to get the problems under control with specific back training. After Indian Wells, he couldn’t train the way he wanted for almost seven weeks. But in Roland Garros and Wimbledon, he says the problems didn’t bother him.
Hardcourt season in danger
A week from Monday (Aug. 25th), Federer plans to join the American hardcourt season in Montreal Hartplatz-Saison zu starten. Within a month, the tournaments in Cincinnati and the US Open follow. Federer has 1,720 points to defend there. At the least, his start in Montreal is in danger. “I’ll take three, four days and consult with my team. Then, we will see.”
It’s also clear that Federer can only find his way back to self-assurance when he’s fully healthy. Every additional loss scratches his self-esteem and boosts his opponents’, who now see a chance against him. Brands is by far not the only one of the lower-ranked players who now enter the court assured that they aren’t without a chance against Federer.
–Guest translated by johnsteinbeck
Translated from: “Two Spoilers” (Neue Zurcher Zeitung, July 25, 2013)