Roger Federer might be the greatest tennis player of all time but he is never more in danger than when he has a match point.
The Swiss master lost for the 23rd time in his career after holding a match point in a deflating 3-6 6-1 7-5 defeat against world number 42 Nikoloz Basilashvili in his comeback tournament in Doha on Friday morning (AEDT).
After sitting out more than a year following double knee surgery, Federer showed encouraging signs when he forgot the game’s new rules but not how to win in a first-up victory against Dan Evans on Thursday.
But the physical requirement of playing two three-set matches in two days proved too much for the 39-year-old as he laboured badly after taking the first set against the Georgian.
Tennis observers described Federer as a “step slow to move and react” and “very awkward” as any hopes of an immediate return to the pointy end of tournaments was quickly shelved.
Basilashvili takes the 2nd set, 6-1, in Doha.
Federer moved as slow as ever in this set.
Very awkward to watch, but not totally surprising.
Going three again.
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) March 11, 2021
Basilashvili, who entered Doha on a five-match losing streak and with a record of two wins and 13 defeats since the tour resumed late last year, had to fight in the third as Federer dug deep to clinch an epic seventh game, coming back from three break points to keep the contest alive.
The 20-time grand slam winner then secured a match point against Basilashvili’s serve at 5-4 in the third set but couldn’t get it done to continue his bafflingly bad record of losing matches after holding match point.
Roger Federer plays a backhand during his quarterfinal. (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)Source: Getty ImagesRoger Federer will be back. (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
More than a quarter of his defeats since 2017 have come in such circumstances and his record of 23 matches wasting a match point is terrible compared to fellow GOAT contenders Novak Djokovic (three) and Rafael Nadal (eight).
~25% of Federer’s losses since the start of 2017 have come from match point(s) up – 7 of 27
2017 Dubai v Donskoy (3)
2017 Stuttgart v Haas (1)
2018 IW v Del Potro (3)
2018 Wimbledon v Anderson (1)
2019 Madrid v Thiem (2)
2019 Wimbledon v Djokovic (2)
2021 Doha v Basilashvili (1)
— Bastien Fachan (@BastienFachan) March 11, 2021
While many were quick to forgive Federer given his lengthy lay-offs there was also immediate concerns his return could see him regularly lose to players like Basilashvili who normally couldn’t tie his shoelaces.
“He’s one of the greatest tennis players of all time,” said Basilashvili, who will face Taylor Fritz of the United States for a place in the final.
“I’m very happy that he’s coming back and playing again. Of course to win against him it’s a dream come true. He was an idol.”
Nikoloz Basilashvili celebrates a momentous victory. (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Post-match, Federer said he was still yet to decide if he would play in Dubai next week or head home for a planned block of training ahead of the clay season.
“I haven’t decided yet with the team,” he said. “I was gonna speak to them once the tournament was over. I didn’t wanna talk about it after yesterday. It was important to rest and just think about the next match and actually enjoy also honestly the victory from yesterday. (It was) a big one.”
Federer said his plan to play at the French Open was more about preparing his body for the grass season.
“My 2021 season starts on grass,” he said.
— with AFP