Roger Federer seemed poised to cruise to victory over Jeremy Chardy in the second round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia Wednesday after jumping out to a big lead, but the world No. 4 shockingly dropped a three-set thriller 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6), as Christopher Clarey of The New York Times shares:
Not only does the surprising loss send the three-time Rome Masters finalist home early, but it also gives him something to think about with less than two weeks remaining before the French Open.
Wednesday's match marked Federer's first since his wife, Mirka, gave birth to twin boys one week ago. It was unclear if Federer would return in time for the Rome Masters, but he received Mirka's blessing and was hoping to get back in the swing of things, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
I expect a lot from myself but then after what happened I come here a bit more laid back, just enjoy it. I've had such a good start to the season that I want to just keep momentum on my side. ... I didn't want too big a break. And it doesn't matter whether I play five matches or one match here, as long as I stay with the pulse of things on tour. Of course I hope I can win my first-round match but at the moment I have totally different priorities.
Perhaps Federer's conflict of priorities hurt him Wednesday as he was unable to summon the killer instinct that has helped him close out so many matches over the years. One can only assume that Federer was mentally and physically drained after everything that has happened in his personal life, so perhaps the loss shouldn't come as a huge surprise.
In fact, it may not be the worst thing in the world from Federer's perspective since it will allow him to spend some time with his children, per Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times:
After trading holds to open the match, Federer went on a torrid run that saw him win the first set in truly dominant fashion.
The conditions weren't ideal as the wind continued from Tuesday's slate of matches, but it didn't seem to bother Federer at all, per Tennis TV:
Although clay isn't considered Federer's best surface, he looked comfortable against Chardy. Fed's serve-and-volley game was extremely effective, which led Neil Harman of The Times to compliment Federer's first-set decimation of his French opponent:
While Federer was able to cope with the wind quite effectively, the same couldn't be said for Chardy. According to Tennis TV, the less-than-ideal conditions contributed to Federer's second break of the first set:
As seen in this graphic courtesy of Live Tennis, neither player was great on second serves, but Chardy was downright miserable, which contributed heavily to Federer's one-set advantage:
Per Erik Gudris of USA Today, Federer didn't break much of a sweat in jumping out to an early lead over Chardy:
After holding to start the second set, Chardy had an opportunity to break Federer and shift the momentum in his favor. He let that opportunity fall by the wayside, but he was able to hold once again to maintain a 2-1 lead.
Chardy then once again found himself in position to break Federer at 15-40. Fed was able to save one break point, but Chardy finally converted for the first time in the match and his game seemed to be rounding into form in the process:
The break would have meant little without Chardy supplementing it with another hold of serve. Chardy was able to do precisely that as he took a 4-1 lead in the second set, much to the surprise of ESPN tennis analyst Brad Gilbert:
Federer was able to battle his way back into contention with a hold to cut Chardy's lead to 4-2. What Fed truly needed was a break to essentially get things back on equal footing, and he had a pair of opportunities to get one.
Unfortunately for Federer, Chardy was able to come through with some big serves when he needed them as he saved a pair of break points and ultimately held to lead 5-2.
Federer once again held in his own right to shift the pressure back to Chardy. Although Fed was able to offer up some resistance, Chardy dug down deep and came through with his biggest hold of the match to force a decisive third set:
Although Chardy's ability to bounce back was impressive, his comeback was more a product of Federer making mistakes, as seen in this graphic:
After the disappointment of losing the second set, Federer immediately found himself in dire straits in the third. He was tasked with saving three break points, but he was able to do so and save his serve in the process. That intestinal fortitude prompted Gilbert to predict a break for Federer:
Gilbert nearly proved to be prophetic as Federer erased a 40-0 deficit to force deuce, but Chardy was able to hold on for a nervous hold to make it 1-1.
Federer followed that up with a tidy hold of his own and once again pressured Chardy with a 30-0 lead on the Frenchman's serve. Chardy continued to stave off Federer's break attempts, though, as he scratched and clawed his way to his second hold of the set.
It was only a matter of time before Federer's near misses came back to bite him, and that was the case during the ensuing service game as Chardy came through with the first break of the final set to nab a 3-2 lead, as Tennis Now highlighted:
Chardy then followed that up with a quick and confident hold, which made Federer's next service game a virtual must-win situation for the Swiss favorite. Lesser players than Federer would have cracked as he faced a pair of break points, but he was able to fight them off and give himself a chance at 4-3:
The hold gave Federer obvious momentum and it may have adversely impacted Chardy's psyche as he wilted during Federer's break-point opportunity to make it 4-4, per Sports Illustrated Beyond the Baseline:
Federer quickly held to give himself an opportunity to close out the see-saw affair with another break of Chardy's serve. Nothing came easy for either man in this match, though, so it came as little surprise when Chardy held to extend the contest.
Fed once again held to pull to within one game of winning the match, but Chardy once again showed his grit and determination by holding against one of the greatest players in tennis history to force a pressure-packed tiebreak:
Chardy jumped out to leads of 3-1 and 4-2 in the tiebreak, which prompted Craig O'Shannessy of The New York Times to question Federer's chances:
In keeping with the unpredictable trend of the match, Federer ripped off three straight points to take a 5-4 lead before Chardy leveled it at 5-5.
Chardy had an opportunity to earn a match point, but the moment got the best of him as he double faulted to hand match point to Federer instead, per Barry Flatman of the Sunday Times:
By all rights Chardy should have folded at that point, but he refused to back down. He won the next two points to go up 7-6 and was able to close out the match on a Federer unforced error:
While this is obviously a huge win for Chardy, the focus clearly shifts toward what is next for Federer. He has the option to play in one more tune-up tournament prior to the French Open in either France or Germany next week if he so chooses, but he may instead opt to take the week off.
On one hand, it would be difficult to blame him if he wants to spend some time at home, but Wednesday's loss also suggests that he could use a few more matches under his belt ahead of Roland Garros.
Observers will inevitably panic over Federer losing to a lesser opponent, but that doesn't erase the fact that he has had a solid 2014 season thus far with a record of 28-5 and a title under his belt.
Federer won't be favored at the French Open with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the mix, but beating Chardy wouldn't have changed that perception anyway.
Nobody understands Federer's game and confidence level more than Federer himself, so there is little doubt that he'll do whatever is necessary to be ready for Roland Garros. The loss to Chardy is a minor speed bump and Fed won't allow it to define his season.
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