Roger Federer continues his quest for what would be a record breaking tenth Halle Open title against Australia’s Matthew Ebden, who is enjoying the finest period of his career. Federer missed the entirety of the clay court season for the third year in a row, but returned without a hitch to win in Stuttgart and reclaim the #1 ranking. A run to the title in Halle would surely cap off the perfect Wimbledon preparations. But will he advance to the last four or will Ebden stop him in his tracks?
Federer and Ebden, who are separated by 59 places in the ATP rankings, have never before met on Tour. But there is a significant gulf between the two in experience. Whilst Federer won his 98th Tour-level title last year, a haul that includes 20 Grand Slams, Ebden is without a title, having lost his only final last year in Newport to John Isner 3-6 6-7. He also has only 58 wins to his name at Tour-level, compared with Federer’s tally of 1155.
Path to the quarterfinals
Federer began his tournament with a convincing 6-3 6-4 victory over Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene, his second victory over the world #72 this year after a straight sets win in the first round at Melbourne Park in January. He was made to work rather harder to defeat the unpredictable Frenchman Benoit Paire, who held two match points in the deciding set tiebreak but was ultimately unable to convert either, losing 3-6 6-3 6-7 to send Federer back into the Halle Open quarterfinals.
Ebden’s first round match saw him drawn against the Tunisian veteran Malek Jaziri, who has been enjoying something of an Indian summer over the past two seasons. But grass has never been his favourite surface, as was readily apparent in the first set which Ebden won without dropping a game. Jaziri’s resistance was stronger in the second, but Ebden got across the line a 6-0 7-6 winner. He then rallied from a set down to upset German sixth seed Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6 6-1 6-2.
How do they match up?
There is little that Federer cannot do on a tennis court, particularly if it is a grass court. But his most important shot is his serve, which is amongst the best in the business. Its effectiveness stems from the Swiss’ ability to place the ball, with Federer regularly painting lines on his own deal. That serve is backed up by a formidable forehand and an impressive backhand, whilst Federer’s skills in the forecourt are the envy of most singles players.
Ebden lacks Federer’s attacking prowess, although he too is an accomplished volleyer, having won the mixed doubles title at the Australian Open in 2013 and four doubles titles on Tour. He will likely look to serve-and-volley often against Federer and generally approach the net as much as possible. However, he may need to throw extra-weight behind his groundstrokes, as approaches that passed muster against Jaziri and Kohlschreiber may well not suffice against Federer.
Federer survived a scare against Benoit Paire, but expect him to get back into his groove with a straight sets win against Ebden. The Australian has played some excellent tennis over the past two weeks, having also reached the semifinals in Rosmalen (lost to Chardy), but Federer will be a challenge too far for him. He simply doesn’t have the weight of shot to consistently take Federer out of his comfort zone, and Federer in his comfort zone is not a story that ends well for Ebden.