January 3, 2019
Roger Federer used all his tennis wisdom and poise to get the better of Stefanos Tsitsipas in their first ever meeting.
The Greek was playing his hero, some seventeen years his senior. No wonder he tightened slightly at vital moments.
Tsitsipas was 4-1 up in the opening-set tie-break. But maybe the inner child failed to cope with the fact that he was beating the evergreen icon of our sport.
It certainly helped Federer that the Swiss unleashed an incredible, looping diagonal forehand just when it mattered.
A few moments later Stef had been aced and found himself a set behind, having lost the opening breaker 7-5.
It only takes a few seconds of self-doubt to allow a seasoned psychological fighter back into the battle.
Neither could they be split by a conventional break in the second set, even though Federer had three such opportunities in the match overall.
This time Federer took early and masterful control of the breaker to go 3-1 up. He hit the ball earlier and he knew too much. An exquisite drop shot summed up his superior court craft. One more point would do it.
Tsitsipas saved the first match point at 3-6 but couldn’t save the next. There was too much pressure coming from the other side of the net.
Federer won 7-6, 7-6 and the pair embraced warmly at the end.
He had been handed a lesson by the great man in how to play the biggest points, how to stay sharp and relaxed when it mattered.
Just occasionally the younger star had been slower when reacting on the stretch to make forehands and back hands.
Maybe his work at the net lacks Federer’s confidence and composure. But Stef’s serving was superb overall. He aced his hero ten times.
His coordination and comfort within his own body will grow along with his strength. This is, remember, a highly talented contender barely out of his teens.
You could see a trace of disappointment in his face that he hadn’t at least taken a set off the legend. But you also sense that 2019 will give Tsitsipas plenty more chances to do so, as he continues to fulfil his massive potential.
Federer doesn’t mind being the veteran favourite. The man always there to be shot down. It never allows him to relax or become complacent.
Roger explained: ‘You never play to lose, if you have less to lose I’m not sure it’s a good thing. I’m not always sure if it’s a disadvantage or an advantage to be the favourite.
‘I thought Stefanos came out and played a great match and so did I. Very few unforced errors, just really good quality tennis. At the end of the day that’s what I saw.
‘The difference in the first set was maybe an ace and a double fault. In the second, neither one of us dominated and it could easily have gone to a third set.
‘I enjoy playing against the young guys. They bring something different, something I’ve never seen before and that was the case today.
‘As you can hear, I’m still breathing heavily, I’m not getting any younger but it was good fun, I enjoyed myself. I tried everything I could.’
And more often than not, what Roger Federer tries is still good enough. Let’s enjoy our last full year of this amazing player. We will probably never see his like again.