Federer Unhappy With Play, Attitude After Halle Loss

Roger Federer (photo: Noventi Open video)

WASHINGTON, June 18, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Roger Federer‘s body language, both on the grass court in Halle’s open-air OWL Arena as well as afterward during his post-match press conference, expressed disappointment. Is it possible that the 20-time Grand Slam champion is suffering a crisis of confidence? Maybe, or at least he’s being pragmatic in how he’s handling the aftermath of a rare early-round loss less than two weeks before the start of the Wimbledon Championships.

For the first time, the 39-year-old Federer did not reach the quarterfinal round of the NOVENTI OPEN, an ATP 500-series grass-court tournament in which he has a lifetime agreement to compete in.

On Wednesday, the fifth-seeded Federer lost to unseeded and 21st-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, 19 years his junior, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in one hour and 45 minutes. It’s the biggest age gap that the 10-time Halle winner had faced in 1,521 career matches. It’s also the first time in 33 Halle first and second-round matches that he had lost.

Afterward, the World No. 8 Federer, who usually is prompt in coming to do his media obligations soon after losses, said he need some time to digest what he considered was a “confounding” loss. He arrived in the press conference room two and a half hours after leaving the OWL Arena grass court, which gave him plenty of time to shower and change out of his Uniqlo kit into fresh clothes – and to do some serious thinking and soul searching.

“Today, I felt like I needed time – I needed time to digest the third set,” said Federer, who didn’t want to say anything wrong out of frustration. “I was unhappy about how it ended. Similar to Geneva in some ways where I felt like I played actually good in spells, but it was up and down.”

Federer, who usually does press in English, Swiss-German and German – and, sometimes, in French – requested only to take questions in English.

“It had good moments and bad moments in that match,” Federer said of his loss to Auger-Aliassime. “It’s a bit up and down but that is, I guess, part of the comeback.

“I thought the first set was really good, actually, and the second set was okay. I guess when I got down a break, I guess I got disappointed in myself that I was allowing the points to be played the way they were being played.”

Among Federer’s other comments:

“At the end things went very quickly, but it had a lot to do, I believe, with where I was at. I just think the consistency, point for point, has not been easy for me in the comeback and I knew that’s what it is going to take. But again, the good thing coming out of a match like this against a great player is that I know what I need to think about moving forward, because clearly, I need to do a bit better.”

“It was not a good attitude from my side. I was disappointed in the way I was feeling on court, the way things were going, that I’m not getting better spells and all that stuff. I just think that the whole difficulty of the comeback got to me as well as little bit. How much I have to push on every point to try to make things happen and I realized it was not going to be my day.”

“There was nothing I could do. I started to get really negative and this is not normally how I am, by any means. So, I think this is not something I am happy about and proud about, but at the same time, if I look at my 1,500 matches, I’ve played, these things can happen. The good thing is that I know it will not happen the next time, and the next time and the next time that I’m going to be on the court.”

“I think that’s also one of the reasons I wanted to take the time between the match and the press conference to truly understand why I feel this way. Speak to Ivan (Ljubicic, his coach) a little bit and just figure it out. And then straight away head up, look forward, don’t make any silly decisions right now. Just stay positive and we take it on to the next goal, which is clearly Wimbledon. So, we’ll see then when I come back to Switzerland what the schedule is with all that stuff, but today was disappointing, no doubt.” 

Since returning to the ATP Tour in March following double knee surgery, which sidelined him since the end of the 2020 Australian Open, Federer has compiled a 5-4 win-loss record. He lost to Pablo Andújar in the second round at Geneva, then reached the round of 16 at the French Open before withdrawing to preserve himself for Wimbledon. At Halle this week, Federer defeated Ilya Ivashka 7-6 (4), 7-5 on Monday before losing to Auger-Aliassime on Wednesday. His next competition is Wimbledon, which begins June 28.

Osaka out of Wimbledon, Thiem out of Tokyo Olympics

Hours after Rafael Nadal posted on social media that he was withdrawing from playing in this year’s Wimbledon Championships and at the Tokyo Olympic Games, Naomi Osaka‘s agent said the four-time Grand Slam champion would also sit out Wimbledon but will compete in Tokyo.

Then, by late Thursday evening, reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem said he would play Wimbledon but would not play in the Olympic tournament. He said he’s hopeful of defending his 2020 US Open.

According to the Associated Press, Osaka’s agent, Stuart Duguid wrote in an email Thursday that Osaka “is taking some personal time with friends and family. She will be ready for the Olympics and is excited to play in front of her home fans.”

The 23-year-old Osaka, born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, lives and trains in the United States and represents Japan in international competitions. Recently, Osaka drew much attention when she withdrew following her first-round win at the French Open in Paris, saying she would shirk her mandatory press conference obligations because she needed a mental health break. She was fined $15,000 for the one press conference that she did not attend before her withdrawal.

The All England Club said in a statement: “Naomi Osaka will be greatly missed by all of us at Wimbledon this year, but we completely understand her decision. We wish her a happy time with her friends and family and look forward to welcoming her back to Wimbledon next year.”

Azarenka beats Kerber for 10th time, reaches bett1Open quarterfinals

No. 7 seed Victoria Azarenka reached her first grass-court quarterfinal in six years with her 6-3, 7-5 victory at the bett1Open in Berlin Thursday. In doing so, the World 16 from Belarus beat a familiar foe, Germany’s Angelique Kerber, for the 10th time in 11 career meetings.

Azarenka struck 28 winners and overcame six second-set double faults to beat the 27th-ranked Kerber, who hit 16 winners of her own.

“I really enjoy our battles,” Azarenka said during an on-court interview after her 11th victory of the season. “I know she’s always going to be a really tough opponent because she can really play well. She obviously shows tremendous results on grass by winning Wimbledon, which is the ultimate goal you can reach on grass. I prepare myself for that. There is a certain preparation and motivation to be able to go into those matches because I know they’re going to be tough.”

After squandering three match points, Azarenka recovered to put away the second-round win against Kerber. Asked if she got nervous as each of the match points went away, Azarenka responded: “Of course, you get nervous. It’s not an unusual feeling, it’s absolutely normal. You have to overcome it and find a way to push through. So, that’s what I did.”

The last time Azarenka advanced to a grass-court quarterfinal was at Wimbledon in 2015. She is yet to drop a set in her first two matches on Steffi-Graf Stadion this week. Her head-to-head with Kerber began in 2012 at Indian Wells and Thursday’s meeting on grass was just their second following Azarenka’s 6-4, 7-5 win at the 2012 London Olympic Games quarterfinals.

Next, Azarenka will meet No. 26 Jessica Pegula of the United States, who reached her first grass-court quarterfinal with a 7-5, 6-2 75-minute victory over No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, ranked 10th. It was Pegula’s fourth triumph over Pliskova this season in four meetings.

Earlier, 106th-ranked qualifier Liudmila Samsonova upset No. 32 Veronika Kudermetova, 6-4, 6-3, in an all-Russian second-round match. With her advancement to the Friday’s quarterfinals against 28th-ranked American Madison Keys, Samsonova will break into the Top 100 next week.

Also, No. 6 seed Garbiñe Muguruza won her 25th match on the season and a reached her fourth quarterfinal of the season with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 21 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan. The 13th-ranked Spaniard hit 16 winners and converted four of five break-point chances and withstood Rybakina’s 35 winners, while outpointing her opponent 80-68.

“I was very happy with my fighting spirit,” Muguruza said during her on-court interview. “I knew I had to be very focused with my returns and with my serve. I managed pretty good.”

Next, Muguruza will face No. 63 Alizé Cornet of France in Friday’s quarterfinal round.

The other quarterfinal, which was set on Wednesday, will pair No. 5 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, ranked 12th, against No. 34 Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia.

• No. 2 seed Ons Jabeur outlasted No. 66 Leylah Fernandez of Canada, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (3), to reach the quarterfinals of the Viking Open Birmingham at the Edgbaston Priory Club in Birmingham, England on Thursday. Jabeur hit five aces converted three of eight break-point chances against the Canadian. She outpointed Fernandez 102-98.

The 24th-ranked Tunisian, who is the highest-remaining player in the WTA 250 grass-court tournament, will play No. 82 Anastasia Potapova of Russian, who defeated 59th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic of France, 6-3, 6-3.

Also reaching the quarterfinals on Thursday were: 90th-ranked qualifier Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic, who took out No. 5 seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, ranked 43rd, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-2; and No. 4 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia, ranked 35th, who beat No. 65 Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, 6-2, 7-5.

Top seed Berrettini beats Murray at cinch Championships

No. 1 seed Matteo Berrettini fired 14 aces en route to his 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 124 Andy Murray, which lifted the Italian into the quarterfinal round of the ATP 500 cinch Championships on grass at Queen’s Club in London Thursday afternoon.

“This was really hard,” Berrettini said during an on-court interview after the match. “We all know who Andy is, he is a great champion and a great player. He’s always there even until the last point.

“I’m really happy for my performance. I know how tough it is to come back from an injury. So, I wish him the best of luck. I think he played great today. I played better. I am just happy that he is back.”

Berrettini hit 28 winners to just 14 unforced errors against Murray. He converted three of eight break points and saved all three break points he faced from the Briton. Berrettini outpointed Murray 65-50.

Murray is a five-time London winner and returned to action this week with a wild card at Queen’s Club, his first ATP Tour-level event since March. He was in pursuit of his seventh quarterfinal in this event and first since he won the 2016 title.

Next, the 9th-ranked Berrettini will face No. 6 seed Dan Evans of Great Britain. The British No. 1, ranked 25th, advanced over No. 42 Adrian Mannarino of France, 6-4, 7-6 (7). Evans is one of three British players to reach the final eight at Queen’s Club, along with No. 41 Cameron Norrie and 309th-ranked wild card Jack Draper.

Also, No. 2 seed Denis Sharapova of Canada, ranked 14th, defeated No. 64 Feliciano Lopez of Spain, 6-2, 6-3, and next will face No. 65 Frances Tiafoe of the United States, who beat 230th-ranked qualifier Viktor Troicki of Serbia, 6-3, 7-6 (3).

“It’s never easy playing Feliciano, especially on these courts,” Shapovalov said of Lopez, who won the 2019 title in London. “On grass, especially. I’m happy to get the win.”

Asked if he’s feeling more at home on grass with each passing round, Shapovalov said: “Yeah, for sure, it’s a surface I’ve always loved to play on. Of course, everyone in their career needs to really learn how to play [on grass]. With not much time to practice on this surface, it’s a game I’m developing and learning how to play here. It feels so natural, it’s so amazing to be on the court.”

Happy 41st Birthday, Venus Williams

“Quotable …”

Tereza Martincova, who reached her second grass-court quarterfinal in as many weeks at the WTA 250 Viking Open Birmingham with her 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-2 victory over Jelena Ostapenko: “It was a really tough match for me because I knew every single point was important because she was trying to smash every single point. … I just tried my best. That was the key.” 

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