MELBOURNE — Three quick thoughts on Andreas Seppi’s upset over Roger Federer on Friday on Rod Laver Arena.
1) The ball wafted in the air, like a balloon caught in a breeze. It was break point in the second set and Andreas Seppi, a 30-year-old Italian journeyman was improbably leading the great Roger Federer. Though Federer could have hit an fairly easy overhead, the balls was veering toward the alley and Federer casually let it bounce. The shot landed gently and kissed the line. And suddenly Seppi was up a set and a break of serve. In those few seconds, Roger Federer’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day here at the Australian Open was duly summarized. He doomed by unfortunate luck, unfortunate decision making and, ultimately an unfortunate result.
In tournament’s biggest upset, Federer was dispatched in round three, 6-4, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6. Call this the first major plot point of this event.
2) Let’s unload due credit on Seppi, ranked No. 46. Here is a longtime ATP rank-and-file who scored the signature win of his career. He had never beaten Federer in their 10 career meetings and taken only one set. He was steady and brave today, recovering after losing the third set. There were few flashes of brilliance, but he served steadily, endured a partisan crowd and met the moment in the fourth set tiebreaker—including a brilliant shot on match point—and won the match. But, truly, this result was more about Federer losing than Seppi winning. By any measure, it was a rotten day at the office. His backhand lacked punch. His movement was sluggish. The shanks that were so prevalent in 2013 made an unwelcome reappearance. Leading in the second-set tiebreaker, Federer played a few loose points and quickly lost the set. After a valiant fightback to win the third set, Federer played another lousy tiebreaker—double-faulting away a lead–and it was arrivederci…
3) This result will trigger a round of hand-wringing about the state of Federer universam. Is his body waging war with itself? Is time finally starting to wage war? What the hell happened today? It’s a fair line of inquiry— especially given the caliber of opponent and the dismal stat sheet. But here’s a plea for reason. Less than two weeks ago on the same surface, Federer beat both Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic. Federer has now lost one match this year. Same as Djokovic and Nadal and Nishikori. Federer is unlikely to provide much insight: in 2013, he suffered a string of similar losses and, gamely, didn’t mention a back injury. This isn’t how Federer wanted to start his grand Slam campaign. That’s an understatement. But there’s a lot more tennis to play this year. His season will continue. So will this tournament. Albeit without the biggest star.
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