Roger Federer made his return to competitive tour tennis yesterday, with a hard-fought straight set win over Diego Schwartzman. I was able to catch a bit of the match and penned down a few of my thoughts as the match progressed. Here they are. I will be making comparisons to the last time we saw Federer play an ATP tour match. The Laver Cup doesn’t count even if there may have been visible improvements in his game there. As competitive as that exhibition was, it was still an exhibition tournament. Nothing ever replaces real, “your legacy is on the line”, competition. That being said, here we go.
Federer’s mobility around the court was a bit restricted when we last saw him at the U.S Open. Yesterday, I was impressed with how well he moved, especially along the baseline. The back doesn’t seem to be much of an issue, which is a good sign. If Federer’s movement wasn’t at a hundred percent, it was most likely due to rust. As he shakes the rust off, I expect his mobility and his defense to get back to the stellar level it was at, during the first six months of the season.
Diego Schwartzman got a few good looks on Federer’s serve and did break him in the first set. But if there was a difference maker in this match, it was still the Federer serve. Schwartzman is no pushover from the back of the court and he went toe to toe with Federer during their groundstroke battles, winning his fair share of them. However, whenever things got a bit tight, Federer could rely on his serve to carry him over the line. A master at exploiting his opponent’s deficiencies, Federer used his slider out wide to really hurt the Argentine, whose reach is famously lacking. Can his serve get better? We know it can. He was still broken.
To be honest, Federer’s backhand seesawed between spectacular and terrible – the latter being more prominent than the former. He slapped a lot of flat backhands into the middle of the net. These were easy rallying shots too. Schwartzman wasted no time in attacking that wing and trying to exploit a vulnerable area in the Swiss’s game. However, he didn’t take Federer’s slice into consideration. Federer’s backhand has always been a measure of how great he is feeling. If he is coming over the top of it, he’s pretty confident. If he’s slicing a lot, there’s some doubt somewhere. However, the slice is a weapon and few can handle that biting shot well. Schwartzman, for all the low center of gravity he possesses, couldn’t either. Federer’s backhand must improve though. He will face more dangerous opponents and he knows more than anyone that his slice is fodder for Nadal.
The Net Game
Federer’s volleys lacked their usual crispness in this match. His forward movement to the net was a bit hesitant at times and he failed to cut off the angles quickly. Schwartzman made him pay with a few beautiful passing shots, particularly from the backhand wing. The positive takeaway was that Federer stayed aggressive and he got a few great stab volleys and reflex volleys. Chalk this up to rust as well. Federer’s overhead, on the other hand, was as effective as ever.
Looking at the big picture, this was a solid showing from Roger. Diego Schwartzman is a solid player and this match served as a good welcome back test for him. He knows where his game is at the moment, and he knows what he needs to do to improve. Most importantly, he’s still in the tournament and as such, still in the hunt for that year end number one ranking.