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MELBOURNE -- As Saturday’s play comes into its final hours, let’s go right to the questions:
As I watched the Federer-Seppi match, what was more disturbing than Federer's unforced errors, sluggish footwork, bad shot selection, foolish charges to the net on bad approaches and puzzling inability to get traction on Seppi's serve, was Maestro's mental wilt. Despite his bad play, he still had chances to turn the match around especially in both tiebreaks, where it was clear by Federer's uncharacteristic tentative play that the old lion lost his nerve. Father time not only effects the body it also effects the ability to maintain the razor sharp focus and the poise necessary to handle repeated pressure, and Federer could not step up despite numerous opportunities against an opponent he had beaten 10 times in a row. Fernando has respect for Federer but the sentimental hype and the rose colored glasses must come off. Even yours, no?
-- Fernando Valencia
• Serena and Venus Williams won today in three sets. So did defending champ, Stan Wawrinka and No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic. And yet all anyone wanted to discuss was Federer’s unceremonious exit.
We talked about this on Saturday on Tennis Channel (he says, in a shameless be-a-good-soldier plug). Jim Courier mentioned Federer’s tactical deficiencies, his decision to continue attacking, despite getting passed time and again. Martina Navratilova pointed out the Federer got a bit nervy, as veterans tend to do when they know the window of opportunity is closing. I thought a lot of the problem was movement-based. So light on his feet in 2014, Federer looked as though he was encumbered by ankle weights yesterday.
I think Fernando—and we love the third person—is right to conflate the physical and the mental. Knowing you’re moving sluggishly has to exact a price mentally. Not just in confidence but in tactics and focus.
I have a favorite theme here: tennis plots shift in a hurry. A week ago, Nadal was discounting his chances, Djokovic had a virus and Federer had outlasted Dimitrov and Raonic to win Brisbane. Now? He’s headed to the airport and questions swirl about the significance of his dispiriting 2015 Australian Open.
Why does Federer's loss mean so much? Djokovic and Nadal have lost one match this year too. He'll recover.
-- Raymond Stankowski, @CTheartthrob
• Context matters. Big difference between getting served off the court by Ivo Karlovic or playing a dog of a match against a fellow lefty in a tuneup (Djokovic and Nadal, respectively) and losing in the third round of major—a major at which you haven't lost this early in well over a decade.
You're right: Federer will recover. It doesn’t mean his year is over. It doesn’t mean he is over the hill. But I think it’s fair and reasonable to assert that Federer’s play Friday was troubling; and so was the result.
This is a devastating loss for partisans of the quickly fading Federer-Nadal rivalry. Will we ever have another opportunity to see these two play each other at a Slam?
-- Yves, Montreal
• Sure, why not? Unfortunately it might in the quarters, not the final.
Feliciano Lopez won two matches in a row despite being down match point in each. Has anyone ever done it three times in a row? More?
-- Richard, New York, NY
• First, Lopez is making the most of his escapes, taking out Jerzy Janowicz. Anyway you raise a good question and here comes Greg Sharko to the rescue: “Did some digging and found in 2001 Max Mirnyi saved match point in three matches (not in a row) in Stuttgart-indoor (one was in qualifying). I began keeping track of MP saved winners since 2001 and no one has ever saved MP in three matches in same tournament.” (Those Stuggart opponents: Vacek, Kuerten, Ivanisevic).
What is the state of South African tennis? Seems, after swimming, it would be huge sport, considering Commonwealth ties, but where are they?
• Kevin Anderson holds down the fort. There are some doubles players. But that’s about it. There are some challenges: with no ATP or WTA events there’s little opportunity for tennis to be front-and-center in such a rich sporting landscape. I gather there are no booming stars on the horizon either. And there appears to be some infighting, too.
Do you think that the WTA will address the ridiculous and sexist request for Bouchard to twirl? Does the WTA offer any media training about responses to sexist comments and requests of it stars? Serena does a twirl after victories (unasked). Do you think she would have twirled for the commentator? What about Maria? My thought is Serena -- maybe. Maria -- no.
• It’s unfair to blame anything on Bouchard. She was put in an uncomfortable, unwinnable position. I thought her response afterwards was appropriate. Given the context—a play off of Serena’s twirling—it was more clumsy than sexist.
Five thoughts from Saturday:
• Aga Radwanska was a mediocre 27-22 in her career against lefties. But she sure looked good on Saturday, beating Varvara Lepchenko, 6-0, 7-5.
• Camila Giorgi served for the match against Venus Williams. She blinked. Venus didn’t. And won in three sets. Radwanska is next.
• Like Venus, Serena lost the first set, then cruised beating Elina Svitolina, a future top ten player.
• Milos Raonic is like the Simona Halep of the women’s draw inasmuch as he’s a contender, seeking his first Slam, cruising through the draw with scant drama. He beat Benjamin Becker on Saturday, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.
• Apropos of nothing, this Victoria Azarenka video is just tremendous: