Milestone 1,200th Win For Federer Was Anything But Predictable

MADRID, May 9, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

As the third round of the Mutua Madrid Open unfolded at Caja Mágica Thursday, four past champions of this ATP Masters 1000 clay-court tournament – Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev – were all in action throughout the day. Each carried a different agenda, but all of them shared a common goal: to win and keep moving on in Madrid. And all of them did, though it wasn’t as predictable as one might have imagined.

The World No. 1 and top seed Djokovic brought a 12-0 lifetime head-to-head record into his match against unseeded Jeremy Chardy of France. In fact, the Serbian’s set record against the No. 47 Frenchman was a perfect 28-0. That’s ownage, folks.

Meanwhile, fourth seed Federer, who moved up to World No. 3 at the start of the week, walked out on Court Manolo Santana during the sunny, late afternoon in hot pursuit of his 1,200th career victory, where he faced the acrobatic and always entertaining Parisian Gaël Monfils, seeded 15th. Could he out-Monfils Monfils?

Into the evening, World No. 2 and second seed Nadal took on another #NextGenATP foe for the second straight round. This time, it was No. 37 Frances Tiafoe from the United States, who has moved up the rankings to become the American No. 2.

Finally, the defending champion and third seed Zverev was back on court less than 24 hours after becoming a footnote in tennis history as the last player to face beloved, 37-year old-retiring star David Ferrer from Spain. This time, the 22-year-old German would face someone his age in qualifier Hubert Hurkacz.

First, Djokovic broke out to a quick 5-0 lead against his French opponent, then settled in and battled through a tough second set that ended in a tie-break. However, Djokovic emerged after one hour and 25 minutes with his perfect record against Chardy (13-0 and 30-0 in sets) secure following his 6-1, 7-6 (2) victory. In improving his record at Madrid to 26-8 and his lifetime mark against French competitions to 108-17, Djokovic saved all four break points he faced and dropped just 15 points on his serve. The Serbian won 76 percent (47 of 62) of his service points to advance against No. 9 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia.

“The first set was great,” said Djokovic after his win, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “I started off with a very solid game. I put a lot of returns back in play. Yes, he was making errors. … And then, of course, in the second set, it changed because he started serving with more percentage and less errors from the back of the court. His forehand was lethal. He was really making a lot of winners and good stuff.”

Second, after Federer bageled Monfils in 18 minutes – dropping just nine points – to win the opening set 6-0, he came back from 1-4 down in the third set, saved two match points at 5-6 and won the match, 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (3). Federer, a three-time Madrid champion, reached his first quarterfinal on clay since the 2015 French Open. It was a milestone win for the Swiss maestro as he garnered the 1,200th triumph in his storied career, becoming just the second male in the Open Era – and first since Jimmy Connors (with 1,274 wins) – to achieve the plateau.

Federer relied on serve and volley, even when he was down match point. “Panic mode on!” he quipped after the match. “Serve and volley on a hot day on clay works even better than on grass some times.”

Federer saved his first match point on a second serve at 5-6, 30-40 by attacking the net and hitting a smash winner. Two points later, he saved a second match point by keeping Monfils off balance. Then, he controlled the tie break from the outset for his 20th win of the season in 22 matches. Next, he will face No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem, whom he has lost to three of five times, including Federer’s last loss on clay, in May 2016 at Rome.

As the evening set in, Zverev came back from a break down in both the second and third sets to beat the 52nd-ranked qualifier Hurkacz of Poland, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, in two hours and 10 minutes, to keep his Madrid title defense alive and well. The German struggled – he was broken four times by Hurkacz, double-faulted eight times and won just 59 percent of his service points – yet won. It sets up a Friday night quarterfinal against No. 8 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Finally, Nadal wrapped up play by beating Tiafoe 6-3, 6-4  in one hour and 33 minutes, outpointing the American 64-45, to advance against Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland. The 32-year-old Spaniard, defending his home clay, is still in the hunt for his sixth Madrid title and first title this year on any surface. Meanwhile, Wawrinka, whose serve has not been broken this week, made it to the final eight earlier in the day with a 6-3, 7-6 (3) upset of No. 6 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan.

Around Caja Mágica

• No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria, who two weeks ago lifted a trophy on clay at Barcelona to complement his hard court title earlier this year at Indian Wells, extended his winning streak to seven matches by defeating No. 10 seed and Monte-Carlo champion Fabio Fognini, 6-4, 7-5. The two-time defending Madrid finalist advanced to face Roger Federer in the quarterfinals by winning 80 percent of his service points during the one hour and 29 minute match. The loss ended Fognini’s winning streak at eight.

• No. 8 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, just four days removed from winning his third career title at Estoril, has composed a nifty six-match winning streak on clay – the longest for the Greek – as he rolled into his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal on red dirt with a 6-3, 6-4 triumph over Fernando Verdasco of Spain. It was the 25th victory of the season for Tsitsipas, which ties him with Daniil Medvedev of Russia for most wins on the ATP Tour. Next, he will face No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals. The two have played each other twice, both on hard courts in 2018, with Zverev winning in Washington, D.C., and Tsitsipas in Toronto.

• No. 9 seed Marin Cilic went the distance for his third straight win to reach the quarterfinals. He came from a set and 1-3 down to beat No. 32 Laslo Djere of Serbia, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in back of some solid serving – he fired 12 aces and won 82 percent (40 of 49) of his first serves – that saw Cilic win 11 of the final 12 games during the two hour and nine minute match. The Croatian broke Djere’s serve four times and outpointed him 94-77.

“I was a set and a break down, with Laslo having a few break points at the start of the second to go a double break down,” said Cilic, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “I stuck to my game, and one opportunity arose and I started to play way, way better from the middle of the second set to the end of the match.”

Next, Cilic will face Novak Djokovic for the 20th time during Friday’s quarterfinal round. Cilic has won only two of their 19 encounters and has lost the last three.

#Gracias Ferru

Last night, David Ferrer paid tribute to his friends and colleagues as well as his family after playing in the final match of his 19-year professional career. “To all my tennis colleagues, thank you for the love and respect.” 

He shared a message to the next generation of tennis players as he heads into retirement following a career whose foundations included sportsmanship, hard work and a relentless style of play.

“Everyone has to pursue their own path and a way of working out things,” said Ferrer. “In my case, at the end, what I learned is that normally you learn from defeats, from the losses, the tough moments, because you have to miss a lot of time, you have to taste defeat, you have to stand up and continue and keep on working. That was what was driving me to be the tennis player that I am today. And to accept the tough and frustrating moments and face them and recover. And to pursue your dreams, but not one or two, or three days, but you have to do it all of your career. I would like to always be remembered for my personality, the way I am personally. I think I am a good person to the very last day of my existence.”

What they’re saying

Among the many tributes paid David Ferrer on Wednesday night, none were more heartfelt than from Rafael Nadal. The two were not only competitors but also Davis Cup teammates. Nadal said: “You are a great example for everyone of determination and hard work, and you have always behaved in the correct way, doing things right with the values necessary to motivate the youngsters. I’d like to congratulate you on your playing career and above all as a person. You are an exceptional colleague and you have been throughout your career. We’re going to miss you, not just the Spaniards, but the whole of tennis. I wish you the best for your future.”

What they’re tweeting

• Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist: “David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal were different players, different people, and Ferrer deserves his own paragraph. But one thing he & Nadal shared all these years is that they never took a point off. Each point was a separate battle, to be respected and to be fought for tooth & nail.”

• Kristina Mladenovic, WTA professional from France:

• Kevin Anderson, ATP professional from South Africa:

Thursday’s results

Third round singles
No. 1 Novak Djokovic d. Jeremy Chardy, 6-1, 7-6 (2)
No. 9 Marin Cilic d. Laslo Djere, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
No. 4 Roger Federer d. No. 15 Gaël Monfils, 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (3)
No. 5 Dominic Thiem d. No. 10 Fabio Fognini, 6-4, 7-5
No. 8 Stefanos Tsitsipas d. Fernando Verdasco, 6-3, 6-4
No. 3 Alexander Zverev d. Q-Hubert Hurkacz, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4
Stan Wawrinka d. No. 6 Kei Nishikori, 6-3, 7-6 (3)
No. 2 Rafael Nadal d. Frances Tiafoe, 6-3, 6-4