World #1 and defending champion Roger Federer will look to continue his unbeaten start to the season when he steps on to court against the extremely talented young Hyeon Chung, who is seeded 23rd in Indian Wells. For Federer, his #1 ranking is on the line in this match, but if he wins, he can continue his quest for what would be a record-breaking sixth Indian Wells crown. For Chung it would be a first Masters 1000 semifinal. But who will come out on top?
Federer and Chung have met just once so far in their careers although it was on a stage even bigger than their upcoming Indian Wells clash. The two faced off in the Australian Open semifinals earlier this year, which was Chung’s debut in the last four of a Slam. Expectations were high going into the match, but Chung was ultimately unable to compete at anything like his best and retired trailing 1-6 2-5. So obvious were his injury problems in that match that it offers little insight into this one.
Path to the quarterfinals
Federer, top seed, received a bye into the second round and began his tournament there against Federico Delbonis. The Argentine had won their only previous match in Hamburg five years ago, at a time when Federer’s career was arguably at its lowest ebb. He found the Swiss in different mood in Indian Wells, and despite a rain delay, Federer won fairly comfortably 6-3 7-6, although he did have to save a set point in the second set tiebreak.
That set up a clash with 25th seed and 2017 Bercy finalist Filip Krajinovic. The Serbian caught Federer at his dominant best and managed just three games as he was routed 6-1 6-2. Standing between Federer and the quarterfinals was world #100 Jeremy Chardy, with whom he had enjoyed a number of exciting clashes in the past. Whilst their Indian Wells match up wasn’t a thriller, Chardy acquitted himself well in defeat as Federer advanced after a reasonably tough examination 7-5 6-4.
Chung, who also received a bye, began his tournament with a testing encounter against Dusan Lajovic of Serbia. Chung dropped the first set in a tiebreak which he lost 11-9 but regrouped to win the next two sets by a score of 6-3 to advance. He then put in a hugely impressive performance against former world #4 Tomas Berdych in a terrific match, winning in straight sets 6-4 6-4. He was dominant against his fourth round opponent, Pablo Cuevas. But for a late rearguard action by the Uruguayan which saw him save nine match points, he might have won in even more convincing fashion.
How do they match up?
This promises to be Federer’s most difficult encounter by some margin so far in Indian Wells. For all that Federer’s attacking tennis has made him unquestionably one of the greatest of all time, Chung brings real quality of his own into the match. Whilst he cannot match Federer in aggression, his defensive skills are of the highest order and he does not want for power either. Many have compared him to the great Novak Djokovic, and it is easy to see why.
The Korean possesses a similar ability to Djokovic in defending out of the corners. Indeed, Chung showcased his skills in that department to great effect in defeating Djokovic at the Australian Open. He also appears to have improved his forehand over the past eighteen months and although the technique still appears a little unwieldy he has shown this year, and indeed at the ATP Next Gen Finals in Milan, that he can dictate with it.
But for all his qualities, the mental side of his game still looks slightly frail. He has a tendency to let opponents back into matches. Against Djokovic at the Australian Open he took and then lost commanding leads in the opening two sets. He allowed Cuevas to stage a revival in the last round, twice failing to serve out the match. Though he was able to recover in both of the matches, he is unlikely to receive so many chances against Federer in the form the world #1 is in.
Federer hasn’t quite hit the heights so far in Indian Wells although he was very impressive against Krajinovic. He may need to reach his very best if he wants to overcome Chung and he will almost certainly be pushed more than he was against his previous three opponents. But nobody seems to have quite the ability to win that he does and he should have enough to get past Chung in three sets.
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