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Roger Federer trending details picture Roger Federer
Posted by Temmy Fri, June 04, 2021 5:43pm
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Roger Federer

Roger Federer overcomes umpire row and Marin Cilic to reach French Open third round

Roger Federer overcomes umpire row and Marin Cilic to reach French Open third round - REUTERS
Roger Federer overcomes umpire row and Marin Cilic to reach French Open third round

On the face of things, Roger Federer often seems as placid as Lake Geneva. Yet passion burns beneath. In Paris, Federer brought out his inner streetfighter as he subdued the former US Open champion Marin Cilic in four sets.

This match hinged around a testy three-way exchange – involving both players as well as the chair umpire – which blew up after Cilic had accused Federer of delaying the game. Initially frustrated, Federer dropped the second set shortly afterwards, but soon gathered himself and channelled his irritation into success.

The first half-hour had delivered little hint of the drama to come. Instead, the early stages of this match felt like an exhibition, as Federer raced to a 6-1 lead with some exquisite play. He neutralised one booming Cilic serve with a delicate backhand drop-shot that died just over the net, like a judoka using his opponent’s power against him.

But Cilic then raised his game, while simultaneously introducing a little spice to what had previously been a bland but charming affair. The subplot started at the first changeover of the second set. Cilic made a complaint to chair umpire Emmanuel Joseph, saying that he was arriving at the service line and then having to wait for Federer, who was usually towelling off at the side of the court.

When the same thing happened again, with Cilic leading 3-1, Joseph gave Federer a time violation. This did not go down well. As Federer explained later, he had already become frustrated with Cilic’s obsessive habit of bouncing the ball ten times or more before finally committing to his serve.

As Federer put it in the interview room, “I'm not in the mood to stand there and just be, ‘Here I am so you can get ready.’ Start bouncing already, and I will rock up when I feel like I'm ready to go.”

So it was that Federer found himself standing at the net, in a single teapot position with one hand on his hip, and arguing with Joseph for at least a couple of minutes. As ITV host John Inverdale pointed out, this was not the sort of behaviour that the world No80 would have got away with. But Federer is the unofficial emperor of tennis, and now he called Cilic up to the net like a judge summoning a witness to the stand.

“Am I playing too slow?” Federer asked in English. Initially reluctant to step forward, Cilic eventually mumbled something about how the game is supposed to be played at the server’s pace. “I understand the rule,” Federer replied with feeling.

“On a few occasions I was waiting for you,” Cilic stammered, looking rather like a schoolboy summoned to the headmaster’s office. To which Federer replied “I understand, but I'm going from one corner to the next, trying to get my towel back. I'm not even doing it on purpose.”

So it was that the set finally resumed, and did so with real feeling. Federer won the next point with a fine backhand drive, and let out a mighty roar. He couldn’t stop Cilic from seizing that second set, but he soon re-established his advantage with relentless serving and some rasping forehand winners.

“When thing were looking dangerous for me, I was able to step up a gear, stay with him, and then pull away from him,” said Federer after his 6-2, 2-6, 7-6, 6-2 win. “I think that gives me a lot of confidence.”

Despite Cilic’s complaints about stalling, the match still whizzed past in 2hr 35min. This was speedy for a four-setter, and should keep some energy in Federer’s 39-year-old legs as he prepares to face Dominik Koepfer – the German nicknamed “Pitbull” – in Saturday's third round.

Federer also claimed to have enjoyed the “energy” supplied by the altercation, even though he felt that the whole situation was bizarre. “I guess I'm just new to the new tour,” he said, in reference to the fact that players can no longer ask ballboys and ballgirls to bring their towels to them, as used to be the convention before the pandemic.

If nothing else, the incident reminded us that Federer’s competitive instinct is hugely underestimated. Even if he rarely shows flashes of temper, you don’t rack up almost 1,250 professional wins without a bit of mongrel.

Meanwhile, world No1 Novak Djokovic also became involved in a fiery exchange with the chair umpire as he faced Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay on Court Suzanne Lenglen. In Djokovic’s case, he was annoyed about an unruly fan who kept shouting out at inopportune moments. But he was never in any trouble on the court, eventually easing through by a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 scoreline.

Djokovic will face Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania on Saturday, in the knowledge that a mouthwatering quarter-final collision with Federer remains a distinct possibility.

After pulling out of the French Open, world No 1 Ashleigh Barty admitted that it has been a tearful few days. Her left hip flared up at the weekend, and her movement was so restricted against Magda Linette that she was forced to abandon this second-round match early in the second set.

“It's heartbreaking,” said an emotional Barty in the interview room. “We have had such a brilliant clay-court season, and to get a little bit unlucky with timing more than anything, to have something acute happen over the weekend and just run out of time against the clock, is disappointing.

“it was a small miracle that we were able to get on court for that first round [which she won on Monday against Bernarda Pera]. Today it was no better and getting worse again. I've had my fair share of tears this week. It's all good. Everything happens for a reason. There will be a silver lining in this eventually. Once I find out what that is, it'll make me feel a little bit better.”

Linette is a tough competitor, and she exploited Barty’s immobility with ruthless effect, taking the first set by a 6-1 margin. Barty then left the court for a medical time-out, but only played four more games before shoving her racket back into her bag and shaking hands. The withdrawal ended her eight-match winning streak at Roland Garros, where she had won the title in 2019 before sitting out last year’s event because of the pandemic.

“It had nothing to do with [training] loads or anything like that,” said Barty, when asked about her injury. “As far as we can tell, it was literally acute, landing on serve one day, and that's all. Yeah, it was brutal and tough to accept.

“It’s something that I've never experienced before. Even chatting with my physio, it’s not something she has seen regularly either. So we've been consulting with people all over the world to try and give us some insight into what the best ways to manage it are. I'm confident we do have a plan. It's just that we ran out of time here.”

Barty’s withdrawal leaves fifth seed Elina Svitolina – who beat the USA’s Ann Li by a 6-0, 6-4 scoreline – as the highest-ranked player in the top quarter of the draw. It also gives her more than three weeks to rest, recuperate and treat that unhappy hip joint before Wimbledon.

When Cameron Norrie first popped up on the tour, four years ago, he came across more like a surfer than a tennis pro. He had highlights in his hair, a laidback manner, and a habit of using words like “sick” or “stoked” in an approving manner.

So it was quite the surprise to hear – after Norrie’s superb second-round victory at the French Open – that he now considers himself to be “very businesslike like I'm the CEO of a company.”

Despite his apparently carefree nature, Norrie always had an excellent work ethic – and that is a recurring theme in every tennis success story. There are no shortcuts in this gruelling sport.

But while he may have trained hard in the past, it has taken Norrie a few seasons to work out how best to maximise his gifts. These are – in order of precedence – a remarkable set of lungs, a heavily top-spun forehand, and a curiously flat backhand which he hits in the manner of Jimmy Connors.

Against Lloyd Harris on Thursday, Norrie was almost note-perfect in the way he deployed these assets. Admittedly, Harris – who is a big-serving South African – was able to break early before going on to claim the first set. But Norrie was unfazed, and responded by upping his work-rate slightly from the back of the court.

For the next hour and three-quarters, he barely missed a ball. Instead, he ground Harris down with his athleticism and regular use of the favourite lefty tactic which has been perfected by Rafael Nadal – the heavy, looping forehand that bounces up at the right-hander’s backhand like a grenade.

“There's no secrets out there,” said Norrie after his 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 victory. “Just keep working hard, keep training every day. I think the biggest thing is I'm attacking tennis in all aspects, taking it to a different level professionally and making it very businesslike, like I'm the CEO of a company.

“I haven't changed anything drastically. I don't think I'm playing out of this world,” added Norrie, whose ranking will now climb inside the top 40 for the first time. “I just think I'm doing a lot of fundamentals well and that’s paying off.”

This is the third time in four majors that Norrie has reached the last 32. On each occasion, he has outlasted the rest of the British contingent. Here in Paris, he has also outlasted all 28 Frenchmen and women. There is no home player in the third round for the first time in the history of this event.

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