Swiss Precision: Federer, Bencic Repeat As Hopman Cup Champions

Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic (photo: Hopman Cup)

PERTH, January 5, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

As Switzerland faced Germany in the final of the 2019 Mastercard Hopman Cup in Perth, Australia, it all came down to two main storylines: Could Germany end a 24-year-old title drought and lift the trophy for the first time in a generation? Or, would Switzerland be the second team to triumph in consecutive years? Like the 2018 nail-biting final between these same countries, this one would be decided by a memorable mixed doubles rubber, too.

As it happened, Saturday’s final before another sellout crowd at RAC Arena came down to a winner-take-all, final set tie-break in mixed doubles that was decided by the slimmest of margins. With the Tennis Australia “Fast 4” format’s nine-point tie-break dead even at 4-all – and both teams staring down a championship point – the Swiss duo of Roger Federer and Belinda Bencic prevailed over Alexander Zverev and Angelique Kerber of Germany. The incredible final point of the competition – an 18-shot back-and-forth rally that ended with Zverev netting a backhand return – earned the Swiss the rubber, 4-0, 1-4, 4-3 (4), as Switzerland successfully defend its Hopman Cup title by defeating Germany 2-1. It marked a record third Hopman Cup crown for Federer and the fourth title for Switzerland, which also won in 1992, 2001 and 2017.

“It’s been an absolute blast,” said an elated Federer, smiling throughout the trophy presentation. “I loved every second about this Hopman Cup. … I had a great time, a wonderful time with my family, my team, and Belinda’s team. … Perth is a fun city. It’s been a wonderful stay for us.

“I want to congratulate Angelique and Sasha. I love playing against both of them. I wish them all the very best during the season. … And, it’s been so much fun playing with Belinda these past three years. I wish you all the best. We all love Australia!”

With Swiss precision, the World No. 3 Federer delivered a masterful performance in beating the No. 4 Zverev, 6-4, 6-2, that gave Switzerland an early 1-0 lead in the final. Federer played superbly during the 33-minute opening set, dropping just two points on his serve. His momentum carried him into the second set as he strung together five straight winning games to go ahead 3-0 and kept pressure on Zverev. Federer coasted from there and won the rubber on his second match-point opportunity by hitting a forehand volley winner – his 24th during the 70-minute match – that left Zverev dead in his tracks.

Federer placed 65 percent of his first serves in play, hit nine aces, won three of five break-point opportunities, controlled the net by garnering 25 of 33 net points, and faced no break points on his serve. He committed just 16 unforced errors. Meanwhile, Zverev hit nine aces but committed four double faults. His 21 winners were overshaddowed by the 23 unforced errors he committed. Federer outpointed Zverev 67-45.

“It was a good match for me, no doubt about it,” said Federer during an on-court interview with Australia’s Channel 9 after his win. “I think I served really well. Conditions are really quick, so I think when you string together a nice serve and volley game like I did today it’s always going to be tough for any opponent.”

In a remarkable achievement for anyone – let alone a 37-year-old, 20-time Grand Slam champion – Federer has now won 22 singles matches in a row in Australia. The last time he lost a singles match Down Under was against Zverev in the 2017 Hopman Cup during group play that went to three tie-break sets.

“It seems to be really working out well for me,” said Federer. “I’m just happy I’m feeling good and playing as well as I am.”

In the final’s second rubber, the World No. 2 Kerber took command from the start against No. 54 Bencic. Although she needed three match points to put away the Swiss, 6-4, 7-6 (6), Kerber kept her focus and composure – and by winning, she maintained her perfect (8-0) Hopman Cup singles record.

Kerber won the 35-minute opening set by hitting 10 winners while converting both of her break-point opportunities. Then, she began the second set with a quick break of Bencic that mirrored the start of the first set. With the German serving for the match, ahead 5-4, Bencic broke back on her third try and leveled the set – and eventually forced a tie-break.

Kerber pushed ahead 6-4 during the tie-break, but Bencic saved two match points. However, Kerber won the final two points, hitting a nifty back-handed winner on her third match-point try for the victory. She finished the 1 hour and 29 minute match with 28 winners and outpointed Bencic, 76-67. The last winner was one to remember because it evened the tie and meant the mixed doubles would be the decider.

“It’s always tough to play against Belinda,” said the three-time Grand Slam champion Kerber afterward. “You always have to win the last point and it’s not so easy because she’s fighting to the last one.”

Looking back, Kerber said of the tie-break: “I was trying just to play point by point and trying to not think too much ahead. Just going for it.

“I’m happy that I won the first point (for Germany) and now its mixed time.”

In the mixed doubles rubber, the Swiss began quickly and bageled the Germans 4-0 in just 13 minutes. Then, almost as quickly, Germany rebounded to win the second set 4-1 in only 17 minutes. With the final hanging in the balance, coming down to one decisive set, a solid back-handed winner by Federer gave the Swiss an early break lead. They consolidated the break on Federer’s serve as both he and Bencic hit several perfect volleys for a 2-0 advantage. Federer made the difficult look easy, time and again, and his volley winner lifted Switzerland to a 3-1 lead in the final set, which seemed insurmountable.

However, Kerber kept the German’s title hopes alive in the next game with a forehand winner to narrow the gap. With the championship riding on Federer’s serve, the Swiss maestro wasn’t able to close it out. Instead, Germany evened the set at 3-all, which forced a deciding tie-break that came down to one final point before Switzerland prevailed.

“This week has been an amazing week. We will remember it for the rest of our lives – especially how it ended,” Zverev said after he and Kerber accepted their runner-up prize. “We really wanted to win (this year). We were so close, just one shot away. We love it here. Hopefully, we can come back many times.”

Then, gesturing to the champion’s trophy that Federer and Bencic held in their possession for the second straight year, Zverev closed his remarks by saying, “We want to hold that trophy.”

Hopman Cup notes

• Roger Federer has enjoyed an enduring relationship with the Hopman Cup. In his debut in 2001, he and Martina Hingis lifted the trophy for Switzerland. Then, 17 years later, he triumphed with Belinda Bencic. On Saturday, he became a three-time winner, teaming with Bencic, again.

“I was even a hitting partner, too, way back when before I (officially) played,” said Federer before the final against Germany. “I’ve come here actually six times and always had great partners … I’ve just really enjoyed myself here.

“It’s a place that’s given me some good feelings for the rest of the season and I love playing in Australia.”

Federer did not drop a set or a service game all week in his four singles victories (against Cameron Norrie, Frances Tiafoe, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev). “It’s been a good week, no doubt about it. … I’m surprised the matches went as well as they did. I played some good tennis.”

• After Federer beat Zverev, David Law of BBC 5 Live and co-host of “The Tennis Podcast,” tweeted: “Just about the perfect event for Federer. No stress, and his talent takes over. But he looked really fit, sharp and on it. Zverev made to look a bit clunky.”

• Saturday’s attendance at RAC Arena was 14,032, the highest-ever attendance for a Hopman Cup final. A record total of 110,364 fans attended the 2019 Hopman Cup this week.

Hopman Cup final

Switzerland 2, Germany 1

Roger Federer (SUI) d. Alexander Zverev (GER), 6-4, 6-2
Angelique Kerber (GER) d. Belinda Bencic (SUI), 6-4, 7-6 (6)
Bencic / Federer (SUI) d. Kerber / Zverev (GER), 4-0, 1-4, 4-3 (4)