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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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Rafael Nadal moves into Rome semifinal after straight-set win over Alexander Zverev

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Rafael Nadal beat Alexander Zverev 6-3 6-4 in two hours to reach the semifinal at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. 

 

Zverev, who won his marathon clash against Kei Nishikori late last night, converted just one of his ten break points. Nadal converted his three break points to win the match in straight set one day after saving two match points to take an epic win over Denis Shapovalov. 

Nadal won the first game at 15 after a backhand crosscourt winner and earned a break after a double fault from Zverev. 

Nadal won the third game at love after a service winner and earned his second break to race out to a 4-0 lead after 16 minutes after a backhand error from Zverev. 

Zverev pulled one break back when Nadal netted a backhand in the fifth game. 

Zverev held serve at 30 in the sixth game before Nadal won his next service game with a forehand winner at the net. 

When serving for the set at 5-3, Nadal saved a break point and converted his first se point. 

Nadal fended off a break point and closed out the first set with a service winner. 

Zverev saved a break point in the first game of the second set and earned three break points at 2-1. Nadal fended them off with his serve and forehands and won the game with a forehand winner. 

Zverev wasted three game points allowing Nadal to get a break. 

Nadal saved two break points to hold serve with a crosscourt forehand winner for 4-2. Zverev earned three break points, as Nadal served for the win at 5-4, but the Spaniard saved them. Nadal sealed the win with a serve and volley. 

Nadal has improved his head-to-head record to 6-3 against Zverev and avenged his recent defeat against his younger German rival in the Madrid quarter finals last week.

The Spanish legend has got through to his 12th semifinal in Rome. 

“I am happy. I played a very solid match with not many mistakes, playing the way that I have to. It is an important victory for me against a great player”, said Nadal. 

Nadal set up a semifinal against Reilly Opelka, who has reached his first Masters 1000 semifinal on clay with a 7-5 7-6 (7-2) win over Federico Delbonis after 1 hour and 41 minutes on at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia at the Foro Italico in Rome. 

“I will face a big chance against a player who has almost an unreturnable serve. Reilly is playing well. I need to be very focused with my serve and try to be ready to accept the situation and be engaged on the return. That is what I am looking for. I think I played more solid than in Madrid. At the same time conditions are different. In Madrid Zverev was able to create a lot of damage with his serve and the first shot. Here, the situation is a little bit different. These are a little bit more normal conditions on the clay, so I was able to control a little bit more the game than in Madrid”, said Nadal. 

Opelka saved all four break points he faced in his debut at the Rome Masters 1000. The US player has not dropped a set en route to the semifinal. 

“I am surprised to reach my first Masters 1000 semifinal. Clay is not really my thing. It is not much of an American thing. It is probably just a fluke, but I will run with it. I have definitely served well. I hit my spots really well today, especially in big moments. I think that has been critical I have stayed calm and on big points. I have delivered”, said Opelka. 

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Lorenzo Sonego upsets Dominic Thiem to reach his second Masters 1000 quarter final in Rome

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Lorenzo Sonego upset fourth seed Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-5) after a 3-hour and 24 minute marathon match to reach the quarter finals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. 

 

Before his third round match against Thiem, Sonego had won just one of his seven head-to-head matches against top 10 players. Last year the 26-year-old Turin native took an upset win over world number 1 Novak Djokovic in the Vienna semifinal. 

Sonego avenged his defeat against Thiem, who won their only previous head-to-head match in Kitzbuhel in 2019. 

The Italian player reached the second Masters 1000 quarter final of his career after making the last eight in Monte-Carlo two years ago. 

Sonego converted his second break point in the seventh game to take a 4-3 lead and claimed the opening set on his first opportunity in the 10th game. 

Thiem saved a total of four break points in the ninth and eleventh games in the second set, which went on serve en route to the tie-break. Thiem got two mini-breaks and converted his second set point to win the tie-break 7-5. After a 22-minute delay to clear fans out of Grand Stand Arena due to curfew, Sonego opened a 2-0 lead with a break in the second game. Thiem rallied by winning four consecutive games with two breaks to take a 4-2 lead. Thiem earned a chance to serve for the quarter finals at 5-4. Sonego saved a match point to take the match to the tie-break. Sonego got his first mini-break to take a 2-0 lead. Thiem pulled back on serve to draw level to 2-2. Sonego went up a 5-3 with his second mini-break, but Thiem broke back for the second time to draw level to 5-5. Sonego got his third mini-break to take the second tie-break 7-5. 

Sonego will face Andrey Rublev in the quarter finals. The Russian player won his only previous head-to-head match against Sonego in the Vienna final last year. 

“It’s amazing, an unbelievably emotional moment for me because I am in Italy with fans for two sets. I am so happy for this victory, for this match. Thiem is the best player on clay with Nadal. It was not easy to play two sets with the fans and another one without, but I have my team and they supported me. I dedicate the win to the fans which game me great energy”, said Sonego.

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French Open Chief: Roger Federer Would have Won Multiple French Open Titles If It Wasn’t For Nadal

Guy Forget also predicts how far the 39-year-old could go in the draw this year.

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The decision by Roger Federer to play at the French Open is the most logical step ahead of Wimbledon, according to tournament director Guy Forget.

 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion hasn’t played a competitive match on the surface since June 2019. Last year he missed most the season due to a right knee injury which required two surgical procedures, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. So far this year he has only played in one tournament which was at the Qatar Open where he reached the semi-finals.

Federer will return to the court next week at the Geneva Open in his native Switzerland. It is the only event he will play before heading to Roland Garros. An event he had only played in once out of the past five editions. Forget, who is a former top 10 player himself, believes the match play is exactly what Federer needs.

“That Roger comes to play Roland Garros seems logical to me. This will allow him to play, and especially to test himself. Clay is a surface that requires you to be precise in your movements. The better Federer is at Roland Garros, the better he will be at Wimbledon,” he told reporters earlier this week.

The Swiss Maestro has only won the French Open once in his career which was back in 2009. Although he has reached the final on four other occasions. It was at the 1999 French Open where he made his main draw debut in a major at the age of 17. Overall, 11 out of Federer’s 103 ATP titles have been won on the clay.

However, Forget believes Federer would have won many more French Open titles if it wasn’t for the formidable Rafael Nadal. A player who has won more ATP trophies on the dirt than any other player in history, including 13 at the French Open alone.

“If Rafael Nadal hadn’t existed Federer would have had at least 5 or 6 titles at Roland, I’m sure of that.” Forget commented.
“Regarding this edition, I think it can happen that he could go into the second week.” He added.

Federer has lost to Nadal in all six of their meetings at the French Open – four times in the final and twice in the semi-finals. He trails their overall head-to-head 16-24.

The French Open will get underway on May 30th.

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