Roger Federer has now confirmed another one for the history books by becoming the oldest ever man to top the ATP rankings. It’s a hugely impressive achievement for the 36-year-old, but it is also doubtless one he would like to cap off with a title at the end of the week. Hoping to prevent him from doing that is Andreas Seppi, the Italian veteran with a fair few tricks up his sleeve. But who will make Sunday’s final?
Federer leads the head-to-head against his 33-year-old opponent, it’s rare that he doesn’t. Their first match came over a decade ago in 2007 on the clay courts at the Monte Carlo Masters in the round of 32. Federer won in two tight sets, with both going to tiebreaks. He followed that up with another nine victories in a row, including at the Australian Open in 2009 and twice in Shanghai with Seppi managing just one set, in Doha in 2012.
Few then, gave Seppi much chance going into the pair’s match at the 2015 Australian Open in the third round. But Seppi pulled out probably the best performance of his life, going up two sets to love. The Federer fight back looked on when the Swiss captured the third set, but in the fourth set tiebreak Seppi played some more inspired tennis including a stunning forehand at match point to record the biggest win of his life.
Since then Federer has picked up another three wins, however, including in the final in Halle later that year which he won 7-6 6-4, making the final at Wimbledon later that summer. Their most recent meeting also came in 2015 at the penultimate tournament of the year in Bercy. There Federer recorded his most dominant win ever over the Italian losing just two games in a 6-1 6-1 second round win.
Path to the semifinals
Federer began in Rotterdam with a comprehensive win over Belgium’s Ruben Bemelmans. Bemelmans, the world #116 has been a fine servant to his country in Davis Cup play and is a hard worker but was outclassed from start to finish by Federer. It took the Swiss star just 47 minutes to wrap up the win in which he hit more winners than his opponent won points. That set up a clash against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, who was looking for his first win against Federer.
He’d lost the previous twelve, but put up a good fight. Kohlschreiber refused to bow in the face off Federer pressure in the first set, forcing a tiebreak, in which he had chances. It wasn’t to be, however, as Federer’s quality in the big moments told and he won it 10-8. Kohlschreiber continued to work hard in the second set only for a late break to undo him as Federer won it 7-6 7-5. That left Robin Haase as the only obstacle left for Federer to surmount on his way to the tennis summit.
Federer did nearly stumble as it turned out. Haase took advantage of uncharacteristic Federer nerves in the first set, stunning his home crowd by winning it 6-4. But the Dutchman had been struggling with a serious back problem all week and only played so as not to deny Federer his moment of triumph. In the second and third sets that back injury was all too evident and Federer ran away with the win, claiming the #1 ranking with a 4-6 6-1 6-1 triumph.
Seppi, once the world #18, has fallen outside the top 80 as his career begins to enter its closing stages and he had to qualify into Rotterdam. He got through his first match against Dutchman Scott Griekspoor, but lost out to Martin Klizan, only to be awarded a spot in the main draw as a lucky loser. He has taken full advantage with victories against Joao Sousa, a disappointing Alexander Zverev who he dismissed in straight sets and the unorthodox Russian Daniil Medvedev.
How do they match up?
Federer’s strengths are well known. Blessed with perhaps the most accurate serve in the game the Swiss excels at taking the ball early and putting his opponents under pressure. The switch to a larger racquet face has cost him some of his fabled touch, but it does allow him to hit with more power off both the backhand and forehand side. That has made him even more aggressive at this late stage in his career and anything short in the court is liable to be punished by him.
Seppi lacks Federer’s aggressive instincts. The Italian is more comfortable trading from the baseline and wearing his opponents down with a combination of depth and accuracy, not unlike Djokovic, although he is far less effective than the Serb. He is solid off both wings, and hits a reasonably flat ball, particularly on a hard court, though he puts more work on it than his compatriot Fognini. What he can do to disrupt Federer is unclear.
The best way to unsettle the Swiss is to keep the ball deep against him. It’s what Djokovic was able to do at his best and it’s why the Serb leads their head-to-head and has won three of their four Slam finals. But to do so requires incredible faith in one’s ability to keep the ball deep and indeed, the ability to do it. Seppi managed it in Melbourne in 2015, but failed in their other 13 meetings. If he can’t find the level he had in Melbourne in 2015, he won’t be able to find the win either.
Federer looked tight in the opening set against Haase. The magnitude of trying to reclaim the world #1 ranking was clearly on his mind and it affected his game. With that pressure off he should be able to play freely, and when Federer is in full flow there are only a handful of players who can live with him. Seppi, with the greatest of due respect, is not one of them and it’s hard to see the Italian repeating his shock 2015 win. Federer in straight sets.
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