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Footsteps of Federer: A Fan’s Pilgrimage

Writer and former diplomat Dave Seminara comments on Roger Federer’s absence from the Miami Open and his new book book about the Swiss Maestro in a guest post for UbiTennis.

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Is the Miami Open tennis’ most dysfunctional tennis tournament or does it just seem that way? I live a few hours away from the tournament, in St. Petersburg, and was excited when I read that Roger Federer would be playing in the event this year. I haven’t seen Roger, who is by far my favorite athlete in the world, play since October 2019, when he won his 10th Swiss Indoors title in Basel. I was there to research my new book, Footsteps of Federer: A Fan’s Pilgrimage Across 7 Swiss Cantons in 10 Acts.

My Swiss Federer pilgrimage was a treat to myself after a long illness that prevented me from playing tennis for a few years. The trip I intended to take to see Roger in Miami was to be a celebration for the release of my book. But then I looked into the ticket prices and realized that my book would have to be a mega bestseller for me to even think about attending.

Attendance at the tournament is to be limited to 750 fans per day and there are no single session tickets available. Fans must buy passes for the entire tournament. The grandstand court (Roger would play on this court because they aren’t playing in the large stadium court this year) passes start at $5,150. I knew I couldn’t afford that but I hoped that perhaps there might be tickets available on the resale market.

A media release on the tournament website dated February 25—the same day tickets went on sale— confirmed that Federer would play the event. It read, “Federer, the 2019 Miami Open champion, and Djokovic, a six-time winner in the Sunshine state, lead a men’s field that includes 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal.”

But I checked Federer’s social media channels and saw no indication from him that he’d play, and four days later, his agent, Tony Godsick, told the Associated Press that Federer wasn’t playing in Miami.

After Doha and maybe Dubai, Federer will go back and do a training block to continue to slowly work his way back out on tour,” Godsick said in an e-mail to the AP.

I don’t blame Roger for not wanting to make the long trip to Florida at a time like this. And I realize that the Miami Open and other tournaments are in a very tricky position, trying to balance the competing needs for safety and profit. But I don’t like the way the Miami Open and other tournaments handle these kinds of situations.

The cover of “Footsteps of Federer: A Fan’s Pilgrimage Across 7 Swiss Cantons in 10 Acts”

While it’s true that Roger’s name was on the ATP’s entry list for the tournament, that didn’t mean he was going to play. James Blake, the tournament director, obviously could have reached out to Roger’s people to see if he planned to play before announcing that he would on the same day tickets went on sale. But they had no incentive to do so and other tournaments routinely do the same thing.

I reached out to a media representative for the tournament regarding Federer’s attendance and Miami and here’s what he said via email.

“The way entries work at ATP Master 1000 events is the ATP sends an automatic acceptance list (usually six weeks out but this year due to COVID they changed the entry deadline to four weeks out) with all the players who have entered the event and receive an automatic entry based on their rankings. Federer was on the entry list sent to us last week. On Monday we were notified by the ATP that he was withdrawing.”

I checked the Miami Open’s website to see if tickets were still available today and it appeared to be dysfunctional (at least using Chrome browser.) But it appears to show that a tournament pass for the grandstand court starts at $5,150 or $2,000 for court one. I don’t know what they’ll charge for parking this year, but when I went in 2019, it was a whopping $40 unless you pre-purchased it on the tournament website, an arrangement I didn’t know about until I got to the venue. I called the tournament hotline and waited on hold to enquire about tickets, but alas, no one was available and a voice mail wasn’t promptly returned.

I understand that this and other tournaments are struggling now and have to change their business model given the limited attendance arrangements.  But preventing fans from buying single session tickets locks out all but the most affluent fans. James Blake has been very vocal in arguing that tennis needs to work harder to be accessible and inclusive and not just a sport for the country club set.

I hope he plans to invite plenty of underprivileged kids to the event to make up for the tournament’s upper crusty ticketing arrangement. And I hope the event allows any Federer fans who paid $5,000 to see him play refunds if they want them. It’s true that when you buy tickets for a tournament, you never know if your favourite player will be there. After all, players get hurt, lose early or pull it regularly.

But given the high dollar amount of the tickets, the fact that no single session seats were available, and the fact that we Federer fans are unusually devoted to our favourite player, I hope the Miami Open shows leniency and also double checks with Roger first before advertising that he’ll play in the event in the future.

Dave Seminara is the author of Footsteps of Federer: A Fan’s Pilgrimage Across 7 Swiss Cantons in 10 Acts (£13.64/US$17.00 for the paperback edition)

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Novak Djokovic celebrated his 37th birthday with a win over Yannick Hanfmann in Geneva

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Novak Djokovic beat unseeded player Yannik Hanfmann 6-3 6-3 on his 37th birthday to reach the quarter finals at the Geneva Open. Djokovic became just the third player in the Open Era to win 1100 tour-level matches. 

“That really touched me. I am really happy to win on this special day. The key was the birthday. The birthday probably would not be the same if I did not win the match, but it’s nice to be here for the first time at this tournament, with my family coming here to support as well”, said Djokovic. 

Djokovic earned three break points in the sixth game. The world number 1 player missed consecutive break points, but he converted his third chance with a forehand to take a 4-2 lead. 

Djokovic fended off two break points consolidating the break with a hold for 5-2. The Serbian player hit a forehand drop-shot winner to earn a set point. Hanfmann hit a drop-shot winner to force the game to deuce. Hanfmann earned a break point with a crosscourt winner. Djokovic saved it before earning another break point when Hanfman hit a backhand into the net. 

Djokovic sent a forehand down the line wide to face the fourth break point of the game and the sixth overall. Djokovic hit a backhand winner down the line to force the game to the deuce. Djokovic wasted a set point and had to fend off four break points before the match was interrupted by rain. 

After the match resumed, Djokovic saved a seventh break point and hit consecutive aces to serve out the first set. 

Hanfmann converted his 10th break point to open up a 2-0 lead in the second set. The German player held serve at love to open up a 3-0 lead. Djokovic broke back for 2-3 when Hanfmann sailed a drive. 

Djokovic won four consecutive games breaking serve when Hanfmann hit the net with a backhand. Djokovic sealed the win on his second match point, when Hanfmann hit his running forehand into the net. 

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Flavio Cobolli beats Ben Shelton to reach the quarter final in Geneva

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Flavio Cobolli came back from one set down to beat fourth seed Ben Shelton 4-6 7-6 (7-1) 6-2 at the Gonet Geneva Open. Cobolli has scored the second top 20 win of his career.

Shelton started the clay season with his second title in Houston and reached back-to-back third rounds in Madrid and Rome. The US player lost to Zhang Zhizhen in Rome. 

Cobolli reached his first Grand Slam third round at the Australian Open last January. During the clay season the Italian player he reached the third round in Madrid and pushed Sebastian Korda to third round in Rome. He beat Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev in straight sets to set up a second round match against Ben Shelton. 

Shelton earned the only break in the seventh game of the first set to serve it out after 38 minutes. The US player went up a set and a break in the third game and held on his serve to take a 4-2 lead. 

Shelton saved three break points at 4-3 in a marathon eighth game, but Cobolli converted his converted his fourth chance with a well-angled pass to draw level to 4-4. Cobolli rallied from 0-30 down to earn a set point. Shelton saved it with a big serve and held a long service game to force a tie-break. Cobolli earned three mini-breaks and dropped just one point to win the tie-break 7-1. 

Cobolli broke serve in the fourth game and saved two break points in the next game to consolidate. Cobolli broke for the second time in the seventh game after a double fault from Shelton. Cobolli hit an ace to bring up three match points. Shelton saved the first chance but Cobolli converted his second chance with another ace to set up a quarter final against Alexander Schevchenko., who reached the last eight, after Emil Ruusuvuori withdrew from the match due to illness. 

Cobolli scored his first top 20 win against Nicolas Jarry at this year’s Australian Open. 

“This year I have played against a lot of lefties. I like to play lefties and you saw today that I am really happy. It was a difficult match, but I am really happy”, said Cobolli. 

Yannik Hanfmann beat Andy Murray 7-5 6-2 in 1 hour and 43 minutes. Hanfmann was leading 7-5 4-1 before the match was interrupted by rain. Hanfmann did not face a break point. The German player broke serve in the 11th game to win the first set 7-5. He broke serve in the third and fifth games and served out the second set on his second match point. 

Hanfmann set up a second round match against world number 1 Novak Djokovic. Denis Shapovalov won 12 of 13 games from 1-4 down to beat Federico Coria. The Canadian player set up a second round match against Tallon Griekspoor, who beat Christophen Eubanks 6-4 1-6 6-3. 

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Alexander Zverev beats Alejandro Tabilo to reach the third final of his career in Rome

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Akexander Zverev came back from one set down to beat Alejandro Tabilo 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 reaching the third final of his career at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome and his first Masters 1000 final since 2022. 

Zverev reached his 11th career Masters 1000 final, equalling his compatriot Boris Becker for most Masters 1000 final appearances by a German man since the series started in 1990.

Tabilo earned a double break point with a forehand drop shot winner. The Chilean player forced an error with a topspin forehand into the corner to earn his first break in the fourth game for 3-1 after just 13 minutes. Tabilo saved two break points to consolidate the break for 4-1. Tabilo held three break points and hit a forehand return winner to break at love for 5-1. The Toronto-born Chilean player closed out the first set with drop-shot winners. He won 10 of the last 12 points of the first set. 

Zverev won his first service game of the second set to stop his losing streak. The German player held serve in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead. 

Zverev double fault to face a break point. He saved it with a big serve and held serve for 4-3 in the seventh game. This year’s Auckland champion Tabilo held serve at love to force the second set to the tie-break. 

Tabilo earned the mini-break after Zverev made his fifth double fault at the start of the tie-break. Zverev pulled back on serve on the third point as Tabilo netted a backhand. Zverev went up a mini-break to take a 4-3 lead after one of the longest rallies of the match. Zverev converted his second set point to force the match the third set. 

Zverev earned three break points in the third game of the decider with a crosscourt backhand. Tabilo saved the first two break points, but Zverev converted his third break point to take a 2-1 lead, as Tabilo made a double fault. 

Zverev backed up the break with an ace to open up a 3-1 lead. Zverev earned a second break in the fifth game to take a 4-1 lead and closed out the win with his 10th ace of the match after 2 hours and 17 minutes. 

Zverev will face either Tommy Paul or Nicholas Jarry in the final. The Olympic champion will rise to world number 4 if he wins the Rome Masters 1000 title. 

Tabilo upset Novak Djokovic 6-2 6-3 last Sunday and backed up this win with a 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (12-10) win over Karen Khachanov in the fourth round. 

“I did not play well, but he was the reason why I did not play well. He came out hitting the ball extremely hard. A lot of dropshots. He was playing extremely aggressive. He did not let me play. I have to give credit to him for not allowing me to play my game”, said Zverev. 

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