Defending champion and five-time winner Roger Federer commences his campaign for what would be a record breaking sixth crown in the Californian desert against Argentina’s Federico Delbonis. The Swiss is undefeated so far this year and recently returned to the pinnacle of the rankings and will surely come into the match confident. But Delbonis has slain some giants before, including in Indian Wells.
Federer and Delbonis have met just once before, and surprisingly it was the Argentine who came away with the win. That match came in the Hamburg semifinals in 2013, with Federer looking to find some form by playing the post-Wimbledon clay court swing. It is fair to say he did not succeed in that aim. The match was a tightly contested affair, but Delbonis was able to play the better tennis at the crucial moments and came away with a deserved 7-6 7-6 win.
Path to the second round
Federer as the top seed received a bye into the second round. Delbonis, however, began his tournament against America’s Ryan Harrison. Harrison, recently embroiled in a controversy over an argument he had with Donald Young, has struggled somewhat for form since, losing first round at the Delray Beach Open, although he did make the quarterfinals in Acapulco. But on the slow and gritty hard courts of Indian Wells it was the clay court specialist Delbonis who won their battle.
Delbonis began well, breaking Harrison twice en route to the first set. But, backed by his home crowd, Harrison fought his way back into the match, with one break in his favour separating them in the second set. The decider was a hard fought affair, with neither man able to manufacture a clear advantage. But as the set drew to its close it was Delbonis who struck, winning it 7-5 to earn a matchup with the world #1.
How do they match up?
The strengths in Federer’s game are well-known, but no less impressive for that. His serve is easily one of the best on Tour. Though not the most powerful the Swiss’ unerring ability to hit lines, particularly when under pressure, makes it a formidable weapon. His forehand is also a superb shot. Federer is able to dictate points with it, and when he has the advantage in the rally opponents are rarely able to force him to relinquish it. His backhand is also a much improved shot, allowing the 20-time Major champion to attack his opponents from both wings.
One of the key reasons for Federer’s success is how quickly he plays. Not unlike Djokovic, although perhaps more aggressively, he exerts an often suffocating pressure from the baseline, playing high up the court and denying his opponents time. To trade with him from the baseline requires excellent ball striking ability. However, one way to undo Federer is to maintain excellent depth. Due to how high he plays up the court he is uncomfortable with deep shots, a tactic Djokovic demonstrated the efficacy of in winning 23 of their matches.
Whether Delbonis will be able to match that level of performance is a huge question. Most comfortable on a clay court, his major strengths are his consistency, with neither backhand nor forehand being a weakness. But neither is either shot a major weapon, nor is his serve particularly effective. His large takebacks may also be problematic against Federer’s aggressive style. Delbonis will likely have to put in the performance of his life to come away from the match victorious.
The slower court conditions should prevent this match from being completely one-sided, but it’s hard to see Delbonis getting much out of it. Federer is too good for him, particularly away from his preferred clay, and the tried-and-tested tactic used by left-handers of going crosscourt to the Federer backhand is no longer effective. And whilst Delbonis did win their only previous match, that was a very different Federer. This one will win comfortably in straight sets.
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