Roger Federer's Surgery Leads Winners and Losers at France, Sofia and Fed Cup

Jeremy EcksteinFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2016

Roger Federer's Surgery Leads Winners and Losers at France, Sofia and Fed Cup

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    Jens Meyer/Associated Press

    With the Australian Open now last month’s news, February is a month of mid-major tournaments with occasional news on stars like Roger Federer. Will the Swiss star’s surgery permit him to return in time for Indian Wells?

    We crown men's winners in France and Bulgaria, but there were disappointing performances as well. Find out how Grigor Dimitrov left his home country feeling jilted with its new tournament.

    We also examine the top two performances in Fed Cup action at the expense of stars Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep. All this and more in this week’s edition of “Winners and Losers” where we recognize the most significant action in tennis.

Loser: Roger Federer

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    The week's biggest story involved a player who did not play. Roger Federer is expected to miss one month after undergoing surgery on a torn meniscus following his Australian Open semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic.

    It’s a huge setback for tournaments in Rotterdam and Dubai where the Swiss legend was expected to perform. Federer’s No. 1 seed in Rotterdam was replaced by Richard Gasquet, hardly the same quality of star power.

    The 34-year-old Federer has rarely missed time due to injury in his career, but it looks like he will try to come back for Masters 1000 Indian Wells. If not, it’s possible he could participate in a surprising tournament or two, because Indian Wells was his last scheduled tournament before taking two months off until the French Open.

    Will Federer’s timing and mobility return? It’s a strong concern going forward, even if Federer is able to knock off the rust and ease back into his No. 3 role.

Winner: Richard Gasquet

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    Richard Gasquet was one of two Frenchmen who lived up to billing at Montpellier’s Sud de France. Ranked No. 10 in the ATP, Gasquet has enjoyed an uptick of success since Wimbledon last summer. His latest title this week was capped by a 7-5, 6-4 final over the most surprising Frenchman in the draw—No. 93 Paul-Henri Mathieu.

    At age 29, Gasquet still featured fluid strokes and solid all-around play. It’s enough to challenge the top stars now and then, and his game translates well to all surfaces. Could he pull out a surprising title at Masters 1000 venues like Indian Wells, Miami or Monte Carlo?

    Probably not, unless he gets help with bracket chaos. For instance, Gasquet will be the No. 1 seed this week at level-500 Rotterdam because Federer had to withdraw because of knee surgery. Rotterdam’s a big title, but it's a far cry from competing against a full draw at Indian Wells.

    We’ll see if Gasquet can pull off titles in back-to-back weeks.

Losers: Frenchmen

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    While Gasquet and Mathieu held the honor of France as finalists in their home country’s Open Sud de France, other French stars went down in flames.

    • No. 3 seed Gilles Simon lost his opening match to Dustin Brown.
    • No. 4 seed Benoit Paire collapsed in his only match to the veteran Mathieu.
    • No. 5 seed Gael Monfils lost in his opener to French qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin who is currently ranked No. 132.

    Maybe the French-heavy lineup lends itself to more internal upsets, and, of course, player motivations can be hot and cold. Let’s see if another heavy draw of Frenchmen will have better efforts at Rotterdam next week.

Winner: Roberto Bautista Agut

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    Roberto Bautista Agut is not a superstar, but he could be a thorn in the side of many top-10 players. The gritty Spanish baseliner just picked up his second title of 2016 by defeating another hot player in Viktor Troicki, 6-3, 6-4 at the Sofia Open.

    Bautista Agut moved up to the No. 17 ranking, three off his career high, but most important is the way he is competing against the top players since the 2015 U.S. Open when he took the first set of the fourth round against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

    At the 2016 Australian Open, Bautista Agut swept Marin Cilic for an upset victory, and then he pushed Tomas Berdych to a fifth set in the fourth round.

    Maybe greater success is coming for the 27-year-old workman who has matured into a consistent force on the ATP tour. He looks a little like Gilles Simon, and he's been playing with that similar pesky style of baseline counterpunching, albeit with an emphasis to attack harder and keep defending his improved serve.

Loser: Grigor Dimitrov

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    The most disappointing story goes out to Bulgaria. After garnering the opportunity to host a level-250 mid-major in Sofia for the first time in 35 years, the tournament could not entice native son Grigor Dimitrov to participate.

    Fans understandably voiced their frustrations with a backlash of comments. Dimitrov could have brought a lot of Bulgarian national pride and spirit to the Sofia Open, signing autographs, performing, waving to the crowd and inspiring his country’s youth tennis programs. Instead, there is at least temporary bitterness from some fans.

    Of course players should be able to manage their schedules however they want. If Dimitrov had participated as the No. 4 seed at Sofia, maybe he feels he would not have been able to overcome Roberto Bautista Agut, Viktor Troicki and Guillermo Garcia Lopez—players all ranked ahead of the underachieving Bulgarian.

    It’s Dimitrov’s call to play or not, but he lost a great opportunity to be given a hero’s welcome. Who knows how many chances he will get to be adored.

Winner: Belinda Bencic

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    Although Angelique Kerber was under the spotlight for Team Germany’s Fed Cup encounter with star-studded Switzerland, she might have finally run out of gas, according to her comments in Fed Cup. “Of course I was a little bit tired, especially at the end of the first set, but I was trying to take all my energy from the crowd and my team. Belinda (Bencic) played very solid at the end and well done to her. Today I gave all I had left.”

    Kerber, the world No. 2 after her surprising Australian Open title against Serena Williams, was strong in her first tie in defeating top-20 player Timea Bacsinszky 6-1, 6-3, but she was outdueled in the critical reverse singles match to Bencic 7-6(4), 6-3.

    For her part, the teenage Benic proved to be the hero. She won both of her singles matches and teamed up with legend Martina Hingis to give Switzerland the deciding doubles rubber. Benic, already serving notice she will be a star, is just another reason Kerber will find it difficult to play as the world's No. 2 player.

    In the end, Swizerland was the big winner in advancing 3-2 to the semifinals against the Czech Republic in World Group 1.

Loser: Bernard Tomic

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    Bernard Tomic is going the wrong way in his quest to be a top-10 player. Seeded No. 1 on Quito’s clay, he was nevertheless drilled with 25 aces by journeyman Paolo Lorenzi in a three-set loss. That’s right, Tomic was aced 25 times on the slow clay, while Lorenzi’s first serve won 91 percent of the points, according to ATP World Tour.

    This is not the formula Tomic is seeking to become a star.

    Tomic is a finesse player with his offense, so he needs to have all of his strokes working, especially flat shots that penetrate deep enough to help him control the baseline. But if his return game hardly resembles that of Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic, it’s unimaginable that he come up empty against the likes of Lorenzi.

    Unless Tomic suddenly raises his stock with an enormous title like Indian Wells or Miami, it’s hard to take him seriously as a potential top-10-caliber player.

Winner: Karolina Pliskova

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    The tennis-rich Czech Republic survived its star Petra Kvitova's two losses in a dramatic squeaker over Romania. Secondary star Karolina Pliskova, who won her two ties and teamed up for the doubles win, was the key. Her win over world No. 3 Simona Halep was instrumental in taking away the pressure from Kvitova and ultimately sending the Czechs to a semifinal date against Switzerland.

    How about Pliskova as a major winner? She played enough matches to rack up points for a stint with the No. 7 ranking last year, but was woeful in majors. She has never passed the third round in a major, and last year’s U.S. Open saw her get bounced as the No. 8 seed in the first round.

    The bright side for Pliskova is that she is still learning. She has beautiful serving power, punishing flat groundstrokes and the tools to be a major champion.

    Will she navigate through big matches by cutting down her unforced errors and developing more patience? Her monster effort in the Fed Cup could go a long way in helping her believe that she can be a top star.