I was super pumped for the first half of the match. Roger won the first set 7-5 and he was playing amazing - probably the best I've seen him play all year. (Granted, I missed a lot of his matches, but I didn't need to watch his first-round defeats to random qualifiers to guess at how bad he was in those matches.) Then he lost the second set. Then he got broken in his opening service game of the third set. I was deflated - almost went into full-fledged depression mode when he nearly went down a double break.
Then I was pumped once more when he played so brilliantly on those first few match points on Nadal's serve. He got it to deuce and I was hoping so hard for him to get the advantage...but Lady Luck was literally not on his side. Nadal hit the net cord and the ball dropped in; Roger hit the net cord on his shot and the ball bounced out.
Incredible. Just incredible. Nadal converted his next match point and it was all over.
I've grown really used to Roger losing already. This year is his worst year since I became a fan and I have become rather immune to his losses. By that I mean that I get mildly annoyed when he loses, but it doesn't affect me the same way that it used to. I would not have been upset or disappointed if he had lost to Tommy Haas because he played so badly anyway; but this match...this match. He was playing so well. He was making these amazing shots. His forehand nearly looked like vintage Federer and his backhand (mostly) refused to be bullied into submission by Nadal's predictable heavy topspin. Quite amazingly, too, Roger was winning more baseline rallies for a good portion of the match. When the score was 4-4 second set, I imagined the result that I wanted: Roger winning, his armed raised, his fist clenched.
Alas, it was not to be. It's so frustrating to watch him lose matches like this one, matches that he should have won. He REALLY should have won this one. If it had been against any other player - Djokovic, Murray, hell even Berdych - he would have won. But because it was Nadal...
Still, I'm glad that I watched this because it had been SO DAMN LONG since I last watched Roger play so brilliantly. His fearless play when down match points reminded me of why I love him so much: when his game is on, he's just incredible; it's like he's not from this planet. When he's playing with confidence and painting the lines with his shots, dictating play, he caresses the tennis ball into submission and he puts it wherever he wants. He's in full control. The tennis court is his playground when in fact it is a battlefield for most other players. Above all else, he makes it all look so damn easy. He makes it look so casual, the way he sets up his shots, the way he fires off a forehand winner. Nowadays the effort is starting to show, even during this match; but there were flashes of Roger at his best, the Roger that is, in my opinion, the greatest player to have ever played this beautiful sport. This Roger doesn't take the court much these days, and so when he does, I have to appreciate it despite the final result, because these last years of his career (who even knows how many years we've got left with him) will be the most precious to any genuine Federer fan. His mettle shows when he keeps coming back no matter how many horrible defeats he suffers, even when he's got nothing left to prove. It's difficult to take a tournament that he enters seriously when there's a good, proven chance that he won't make it to the last few stages, let alone win; but I hope for a good performance. I hope for the beautiful tennis that I love so much - and tonight, he didn't disappoint. Matches like this one, even if he's on the losing end, and the sheer beauty of the tennis that he played, make me quite appreciative of the fact that he's still playing...because there will never be another like him. No one else will play tennis with such grace and elegance. It's no longer about winning as much as it is about watching him, enjoying the process, enjoying the rare display of wonderful tennis when he reminds us that, yes, he's an old man, but look - he's still got game.
I'm so much more hopeful for his chances (to get to the second week) at the US Open now!