Federer Draws Confidence From Halle Return
If Roger Federer is looking for a little confidence pick-me-up early in his comeback, there’s no better place to be than the Gerry Weber Open in Halle. Federer has won this grass-court ATP World Tour 500 tennis tournament eight times, more than any other event.
“The history I have here, having come and played well so often, definitely should help me to play good tennis this week,” Federer said Sunday. “I love playing here. Yes, I think I can come in here with good confidence.”
Federer opens against World No. 68 Yen-Hsun Lu, against whom he has a 3-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head record, winning all seven sets they have played. Lu has a 28-34 tour-level record on grass and enjoyed his most memorable moment on the surface in 2010, when he stunned Andy Roddick 9-7 in the fifth set in the Wimbledon fourth round.
Federer will be a heavy favourite against Lu, but after his surprise defeat to former World No. 2 Tommy Haas in Stuttgart, the Swiss won’t take the match lightly. “It’s important for me, especially after the Stuttgart week, to come here and make sure I win my first-round match and get going. I want to take the right decisions on the tennis court. I don’t want to question myself too much. I’ll have the right focus and mindset, that point-by-point mentality. That was a little bit off in Stuttgart, understandably so. I have to learn from that week and move forward in a better way.”
Federer won the tournament five consecutive times from 2003-06 and '08 (he did not play in 2007) and most recently in 2015. Last year he suffered a surprising semi-final loss to then World No. 38 Alexander Zverev, who one year later finds himself inside the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings. Federer has a potential second-round meeting with Zverev’s older brother, Mischa Zverev, whom he defeated 6-0, 6-0 five years ago in Halle. But Zverev is a far-improved player whose serve-and-volley game is well suited to grass. And the German on Monday will break into the Top 30 of the Emirates ATP Rankings for the first time in his career.
Despite his opening-round defeat to Haas last week in Stuttgart, where Federer returned after a two-month sabbatical, the Swiss said that he had not second-guessed his decision to skip the entire clay swing after beginning the season 19-1, with titles at the Australian Open and the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level in Indian Wells and Miami.
“It could have been better in Stuttgart, but then again I had match point,” Federer said. “It wasn’t like I lost 6-2, 6-2 and everything was terrible. A comeback is never simple, especially on grass where margins are so slim. It’s a serve or a passing shot or a return that determines the outcome of the match. That’s what it ended up being against Tommy, even though I felt I should have found a way home, having been a set and a break up.
“Considering how well I felt going into Paris, it was surprisingly easy to take the decision and after making it I never had any regrets watching it or following the results. I never thought ‘If only I was part of the tournament.’ I was looking ahead to the grass season and enjoyed the time with my friends and family at home.
“It was a decision that was taken within a couple of days. It wasn’t something I saw myself doing weeks and months ahead of the tournament. For a long time the schedule was to play Paris but all of a sudden I just felt that I wouldn’t be comfortable doing it. I didn’t want to compromise the goal of the grass-court season, Wimbledon, the US Open and beyond.
"I felt that the French Open may potentially have a negative effect on what’s to come. It may have been helpful, but I felt there was more risk that it would go the other way. Based on health, that’s why I decided to skip.
"But it’s not a trend that I might follow in the future. I don’t know what the future holds. This was just a one-off decision."
When Federer began his break after Miami, he had a significant lead over Rafael Nadal in the Emirates ATP Race To London, which is an indictor of which player will finish the season year-end No. 1. But after his stunning clay-court season, when he won a 10th title in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros – in addition to winning Madrid – Nadal has opened a massive 2,870 point lead over his rival.
Nadal has withdrawn from The Aegon Championships to rest, giving Federer the opportunity to close the gap by 500 points should he win a ninth Halle title. The seven-time Wimbledon champion could pick up 2,000 points by winning the title at the All England Club.
Editor's Note: The original story said that Federer won five straight titles from 2003-07. Federer did not play in 2007. He won the title 2003-'06 and again in '08.