There was magic in the air. Roger Federer returned to action Tuesday night at the Rogers Cup in Toronto wearing pale pink and painting the lines once again.
Sitting in the stands alongside Federer’s wife, Mirka, sat Paul Annacone, intently watching his latest protege make his way through an often tense match.
The Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela fought hard to stay in the match and caused a rusty Federer many problems in the early going. Leading 5-2 in the first set, Federer allowed the Argentine back into the set, finding himself in a tense tiebreaker which the Swiss finally eked out. Chela played exceptionally well against a man he has never beaten in five tries.
The crowd seemed anxious, wishing Federer to do well. He did not disappoint and offered up some sights they found encouraging like returning weak serves for winners, approaching the net as well as some brilliant forehands for winners. As Federer sought to be the aggressor in this match, it was easy to see the Annacone influence at work—or so the crowd and the critics believed.
Annacone will work with Federer through the U.S. Open when they will reach some definitive agreement about their coaching relationship. The early matches this week will not reveal too much because—as Federer pointed out after the match—he is rusty. He has not competed on tour since losing during the quarterfinals at Wimbledon to Tomas Berdych.
Most of all, Annacone’s true influence will take time to develop. It cannot happen overnight. Reflex and timing must return in full force before the U.S. Open begins at the end of this month.
By winning on Tuesday, Federer established another record by improving to a 210-65 lifetime record at ATP Premiere Tournament Events, surpassing Andre Agassi who held the previous mark 209-73 which he accumulated from 1990-2006.
Next up for Federer in Round Three will be either Nicolas Almagro or Michael Llodra of France, always a difficult player to anticipate with his serve and volley style of play. Although Federer has defeated Almagro the five times they have met, the Spaniard has been playing very well of late and will be considerably more challenging than Chela.
Also advancing on the day was David Nalbandian who had to fight his way through equally tough David Ferrer to secure a second round match against another Spaniard Tommy Robredo. Nalbandian is fortunate to still be around because it is not unusual to see the winner of the previous week's tournament go out in the first round the following week.
But Nalbandian, who won the Legg Mason Tournament in Washington D.C. against Marcos Baghdatis on Sunday, survived a tough opponent to advance. Nalbandian seems determined to fight his way back up the rankings ladder and avoid those tough opening round opponents.
His opponent in Sunday’s final did not fare quite so well as Marcos Baghdatis failed to capitalize on his early breaks of serve to win the match against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy. The Cypriot was the victim of some obvious bad calls and he let his emotions overtake him, losing the match in three tough sets.
Robin Soderling also had a tough opener against a very dangerous opponent, Ernests Gulbis. After dropping the opening set, however, Soderling came back to win the match in three sets. The Swede will face the winner of the Nalbandian/Robredo match. Ouch!
Tomas Berdych also moved on to the Third Round with a fairly routine win over Sergiy Stakhovsky and he will will meet either Russian Mikhail Youzhny in the Third Round or the Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Also losing their much-hyped opening round match was the doubles team of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked players in the world. They fell to the Canadian team of Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic 5-7, 6-3, 10-8 during Monday night’s action.
The wild card team lost the opening set but came back to win the final three games of the second set. The Canadians sprinted out to a 4-0 lead in the tiebreak and held off the two top-seeded singles to win the tiebreak 10-8, winning the match. Unfortunately, the Canadian pair was unable to extend their winning ways into the next round. They lost on Tuesday to Jurgen Melzer and Phillipp Petzschner, 2010 Wimbledon doubles champions.
As Andy Roddick withdrew from Toronto, citing exhaustion, Nadal’s quarter grew a bit easier. The American was replaced by Paul Henri Mathieu who will be a much easier opponent for the Majorcan, should the Frenchman advance so far. Roddick hopes to be able to join the tour in Cincinnati.
Also withdrawing was Fernando Gonzalez, citing a left calf injury. Indian Somdev Devvarman stepped in to replace the injured Chilean. Gonzalez was unseeded in Andy Murray’s quarter of the draw.
All the remaining big seeds are in action today including Djokovic, Murray and Nadal, playing Stanislas Wawrinka tonight. After today, the action will become hot and heavy as the players fight for an opportunity to play in Sunday’s final.
Cincinnati follows fast upon this event with qualifying rounds getting underway this weekend. Federer is the defending champion in Cincinnati and it will be imperative for the Swiss to do well there to retain his ranking and add to his confidence going into the U. S. Open.
We shall no doubt be treated to the pink attire as long as it reflects a winning spirit and a cool, confident mood.