Roger Federer struggled at the Madrid Open in his first competitive performance sincereturning from a two-month layoff, but the Rome Masters has been much kinder to the 31-year-old. With some dominating performances and a gritty win against Benoit Paire on Saturday, FedEx is now in position to close out the Rome Masters in convincing fashion and turn his focus to the French Open.
Federer struggled with the impressive service skill of Kei Nishikori in his 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 loss to the challenger at the Madrid Open, raising questions about his preparedness for a clay-court showdown with the likes of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the French Open.
But in Rome, the No. 3 player in the world waltzed past both Potito Starace and Gilles Simon 6-1, 6-2. He would then face one of the best service specialists of the sport in Jerzy Janowicz, who leads the tour in both aces and service speed.
Despite facing several break points from the 22-year-old, Federer took the first set 6-4 and went on to triumph in the second set 7-6 (2). The win may not have come against another member of the Big Four (or in the finals for that matter), but there’s something to be said for upending a youthful challenger who propelled himself to the No. 24 ranking in just a year.
At 31, Federer’s biggest question marks now involve how easily he can adapt to a changing playing style that includes diminishing speed and quickness. He’s still among the best of the sport, but there’s no denying the decline in his play in recent years.
Defeating Janowicz in the Rome Masters quarterfinals was a bit of a statement match for the world No. 3. He may not be able to reproduce the same kind of exuberant performance in every match, but he showed he is still capable of playing at an elite level against much younger talent.
Federer used his victory over Janowicz to catapult himself to a hard-fought 7-6, 6-4 win over Paire in the semifinals—a match in which FedEx battled valiantly to escape a first-set collapse at the hands of the 24-year-old.
And of course, Federer’s semifinals victory now sets up a finals showdown with none other than Nadal—a potential preview for the French Open finals.
The Federer-Nadal rivalry has lost some luster in recent years, but their Rome Masters matchup should prove to be a sign of exciting things to come when both players take the court at Roland Garros later this month.
That Federer made it to the finals only proves he is fully capable of a repeat performance at the French Open. He shook off the rust at the Madrid Open, and his performance in Rome thus far is reason to be optimistic about his prospects at Roland Garros. If he can somehow manage to upset Rafa on Sunday, the entire landscape of the French Open may begin to shift.
However unlikely a Federer victory may be, his performance through four matches at the Rome Masters is enough to instill confidence in the 31-year-old’s ability to recreate that dominance at the French Open. Nadal is the “King of Clay,” but he isn’t invincible, and Federer is far from finished.