PERTH, January 1, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
When headliners Roger Federer and Serena Williams stood on opposite sides of the net for their deciding mixed doubles match in the Switzerland-United States tie at the Mastercard Hopman Cup in Perth on New Year’s Night, it marked the first time that the 37-year-old future Hall of Famers had faced each other in a competive tennis match during their remarkable careers.
Both Federer and Williams, with 43 Grand Slam singles titles between them, treated their much anticipated showdown like the special occasion that it truly was. Not only did they play delightful and competitive tennis before an appreciative, sellout crowd of 14,054 in Perth, it was also broadcast to a worldwide TV audience of millions.
Following Swizerland’s 2-1 victory over the United States, culminated by Federer and Belinda Bencic’s triumph over Williams and Frances Tiafoe, 4-2, 4-3 (3), the evening ended with Federer and Williams playfully sharing an on-court interview – and taking a selfie together.
“What an honor, what a pleasure it was to play against Serena,” said Federer. “Thank you, Serena. I thought it was very entertaining, and spectators made it electric.”
Williams called it “a great experience.” She added, laughing, “I’m kind of sad that it’s over. I was just warming up.
“It was so much fun. After all these years, we’ve never done this. So, it’s super cool we get to do this at such a pinnacle point in our careers.
“For me, it was super cool. I wanted to take pictures, bring my baby out. I was way too excited, but it was really fun.”
Federer was asked to describe what it was like facing Williams. “I was nervous returning, because you just don’t know,” he said. “People talk about her serve so much. I can see now why it’s such a wonderful serve. You just can’t read it.”
Williams playfully interjected that she couldn’t read Federer’s serve, either. Federer quipped, “Well, we have the same qualities. Your serve is a bit better. It’s true.”
Federer called the evening “great fun.” He complimented Williams, calling her a “great champion.” He added, “You see how determined and focused she is. I love that about her.”
Before the match, Federer was quoted by Tennis.com as saying, “I’ve always thought, ‘How is it to return that serve, or to go head to head with her?’” Then, during an on-court interview after beating Tiafoe to give the Swiss an early 1-0 advantage, he said, “What a thrill it is to play against Serena tonight.” According to the New York Times, Williams said “Oh, my God, this is so cool. I have been looking forward to it. So, it’s just something that, as a player, is something that you would dream of, to play Roger Federer.”
Against Tiafoe, Federer played flawlessly and won 6-4, 6-1 in just 57 minutes. From 4-all in the first set, Federer strung together seven straight winning games – closing out the final game of the match at love.
Afterward, Federer said on court, “I played another good match and I’m happy. It was important for me to stay focused on my serve. My season is off to a great start. I couldn’t be happier.”
Then, Williams leveled the tie for the Americans with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Bencic by firing 12 service aces and hitting 45 winners.
— Hopman Cup (@hopmancup) 1. Januar 2019
After a brief respite, it was time for the big event everyone had been ancipating all evening. Both superstars – Federer and Williams – accompanied by their respective playing partners, walked out to warm applause from the sellout crowd.
The Swiss pair controlled the tempo throughout much of the mixed doubles match and, in just 46 minutes, it was over. Defending champions Federer and Bencic meshed well together and played off of each other’s strengths. The match was played in Tennis Australia’s “Fast 4” format, in which sets were played to four games with no-ad scoring and a nine-point tie-break at 3-all.
Neither Federer nor Williams disappointed the crowd. Both played competitively – always trying to do their best – and, importantly, they entertained the Australian audience in this mixed team invitational competition that is sanctioned by the International Tennis Federation. While there were no rankings points at stake, and the outcome did not affect to either players’ overall record, it didn’t matter.
In the end, Williams gave Federer due props. She said, “He’s the greatest of all time, to be honest. Both on the court and off the court, he has such great charisma. He’s a wonderful player. Hopefully, I can get some tips later on.”
— Hopman Cup (@hopmancup) 1. Januar 2019
Hopman Cup notes
• During an on-court interview following his victory against Frances Tiafoe, Roger Federer addressed his off-season preparation in anticipation of chasing after his third straight Australian Open title: “I think it’s just now about maintaining, making sure I stay healthy, stay fit and inspired out there, come up with good solutions and take the right decisions at the right time. That is the hard part in tennis – to keep that up.”
• Undefeated Germany (1-0) and Australia (1-0) headline Group A play on Wednesday. First, Germany, which features World No. 4 Alexander Zverev and World No. 2 Angelique Kerber will face winless France (Lucas Pouille and Alize Cornet) at 10 a.m. local time. It will be followed by Australia (Matt Ebden and Ashleigh Barty) against Spain’s David Ferrer and Garbiñe Muguruza (0-1) at 5:30 p.m. local time.
Day four results – Group B
Switzerland 2, United States 1
Roger Federer (SUI) d Frances Tiafoe (USA), 6-4, 6-1
Serena Williams (USA) d Belinda Bencic (SUI), 4-6, 6-4, 6-3
Bencic / Federer (SUI) d Williams / Tiafoe (USA), 4-2, 4-3 (3)