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14 September 2012

Switzerland in control in Amsterdam



  • Michiel de Hoog

Photo: Henk KosterRoger Federer (SUI)

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS: Stanislas Wawrinka and Roger Federer have given Switzerland the perfect start in their bid to maintain their place in the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas World Group.

Federer defeated Thiemo de Bakker 63 64 64 and Wawrinka battled past Robin Haase 63 36 63 76(4) to put the visitors in control at the end of day one. 

In the opening rubber the run of play was quickly established, with Federer holding serve easily and putting de Bakker under pressure even after the Dutchman landed his heavy first serves. At 11am, play was interrupted due to rain, but when play was resumed Federer seamlessly picked up where he left off. Federer broke de Bakker’s serve twice and only lost his once, after a careless game, which meant he had secured the first set 64 after 39 minutes.

The Swiss No. 1 then rushed to a two-break 3-0 lead and things started to look dark for the home player. The crowd wasn’t about to let anyone spoil their party however, let alone Federer, and started a Mexican wave. 

Federer didn’t disappoint his many fans in red (Swiss) and orange (Dutch). The match yielded more than a few examples of Federer’s brilliance - some slice backhands in particular drew oohs and aahs. And besides being pretty shots, they also forced the tall de Bakker to stoop down with Federer pouncing on the high balls that followed. De Bakker managed to pull one break back, but never threatened to do more, conceding the second set 36.

For the third set, de Bakker had seemingly decided to go for broke and went up for the first time in the match at 10 and again at 21. Then Federer decided to up a gear, breaking the Bakker in the fifth game, never to look back. Just before the rain started pouring down again, he converted his first match point.

In the second rubber again it was close and again the winner came from Switzerland. In their sixth career clash, Wawrinka beat Haase for the sixth time to put Switzerland 2-0 up.

This was a classic hard-fought Davis Cup encounter, but it might have ended rather sooner. Things looked bleak for Haase with a set and a break down at 0-2, but he somehow turned the set around to take a 4-3 lead. After a long game, with break points down, he held serve and then broke Wawrinka after a glorious rally to take the set 63.

“He let me back into the match”, Haase said. ”It was more a matter of him playing poorly, than me upping my game. But at the end of the second set, I actually started hitting the ball well.”

The stadium – purpose-built for this tie on a 19th century factory site in the centre of Amsterdam – was coming to life at last. In the day’s earlier encounter the atmosphere was subdued, as the crowd oddly didn’t seem sure whom to support: home player de Bakker or living legend Federer.

But not anymore, as fists were pumped on court and off court. Grown-up men screamed Haase’s name and small boys looked up in shock, which turned into amazement, which turned into courage, which made them scream “Ro-bin Ro-bin!” for themselves.

Science has proved that momentum in sports doesn’t exist, but Haase seemed to have it nonetheless, and the prospect of at least one live singles rubber on Sunday – which was the most the Dutch hoped for privately – became real. At the other end of the court, Wawrinka started throwing his racket, which usually only makes bad things worse. But this might oddly have been the turning point: the Swiss took four of the next five games: 63 and a two set to one lead.

The fourth set saw both players reaching their highest level of the match, at least until five games all, when all of a sudden nervous error followed nervous error. At 5-6 down, Haase saved a match point on his serve to set up a tiebreak. But under consistent pressure from Wawrinka he ended up making one of those too many, netting a makeable forehand for the minibreak that Wawrinka happily made use of. He converted his third match point to take his team 2-0 up. 

Reflecting on the opening rubber Federer said: “It’s nice to be admired for a nice looking game, one that looks effortless. But I put so much work into making it work. I try to get to balls and get them back. And for some reason it looks OK. And people like that.”

But to Federer, style is secondary. “I try to play fair and tough, the way I’m supposed to do it.” And this he did. “Thiemo didn’t play bad, I played pretty good. He got chances in second and beginning of the third, but in the end I had a little to much margin over him.”

De Bakker could only agree. At the press conference, he couldn’t help looking satisfied with his game, but he said that every time he played an average ball, “Federer hit a great one back at me”.

Said de Bakker: “There’s hardly any margin for error with him. He’s just so solid, he pushes you away so far, he moves unbelievably well. He makes you feel so uncomfortable.”

Tomorrow Robin Haase and doubles specialist Jean-Julien Rojer face the daunting task of beating Federer and Wawrinka to keep the tie alive for the Dutch. Swiss captain Severin Luthi tried his best not to seem sure of victory in the tie. “There’s no guarantees, even with Roger and Stan teaming up”, he said. “But we gave ourselves a good chance of being 3-0 up tomorrow, and I’m happy with that.”

Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live 

Roger Federer (SUI) - 14/09/2012

Robin Haase (NED) - 14/09/12

Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) - 14/09/12

Thiemo De Bakker (NED) - 14/09/2012

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    Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam, Netherlands

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