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Pillars of Roger’s Career: Mercury is Marat – or is it Roger?

Posted on February 10, 2010 by Claudia Celestial Girl

The 2005 Australian Open semifinal between Maraf Safin and Roger Federer was a classic.

The 2005 Australian Open semifinal between Marat Safin and Roger Federer was a classic.

This is part of a series of articles that outline the stand-out matches of Roger Federer’s career.  The impetus of this series was a discussion of the Greatest Matches of the Decade – in which Roger was not mentioned very often.  We thought that perhaps it was time to review some of the stand-outs.

Mercury is a very smooth element – gleaming silver and round, when positioned still on a tabletop, like an old-fashioned doorknob.

Coming into the AO in 2005, Roger Federer was smooth.  Possessor of the most complete game in the sport, the deceptive forehand, and the greatest amount of topspin in the game, Roger had won every Slam but the French, where he fell to clay-court specialist Gustavo Kuerten in straight sets.

Otherwise Roger owned the field.  2004 was one of his signature years, with lopsided wins over Marat Safin at the Aussie Open, Roddick at Wimbledon, and Lleyton Hewitt at the USO.  He would lose only 6 times (one of them to Kuerten at the French, and another in Miami to a 17-year old Spaniard from Mallorca.)

Starting the 2005 tennis year, would it be the same steam-roll?  Or would Roger and is opponent create one of the greatest matches is Aussie Open history?

Mercurial was the word most often used to describe Marat Safin.  Power was another word associated with Safin (more so than with Roger in those days). In 2000, he’d rocked Pete Sampras at the USO, and out-powered him with the forehand 4-3-3, to win his first major.  Safin ranked somewhere in the top five in all aspects of the game, but his temperament saw him often demonstrate a tendency for the erratic.

In 2005, the AO was played on the emerald green Rebound-Ace, a springy surface that was slightly slower, and favored players who hit hard and big. It was perfect for both Marat Safin’s and Roger Federer’s game(s).

‘F*&^,” said Roger in the first set, clearly picked up by the microphones, upon failing to convert a break point.

Shortly thereafter a sight rarely seen, Roger stretched way out past the doubles alley retrieving a ball, but returning it short for Marat, well inside the ad court, to deliver on the next stroke, the winning volley.

Smooth forward movement by Marat kept Roger off balance and consistently out of position.  It was the jewelry around his neck, joked the commentators, that was pulling Marat forward, in toward the net.

But the next break opportunity for Roger was a set point, and Marat threw his racket high into the air and caught it again like a baton twirler when he lost it.

No melt-down though, as Marat broke Roger at his first opportunity in the next set as if to declare the first set only an opening round in a dog-fight.

Marat was successful at keeping the points short, and with good volleying, the set progressed quickly.  Roger defended with lobs, and the slice crosscourt backhand, trying to force Marat back to the baseline, with limited success.  Kept out of his rhythm, Roger over-played his forehands trying to get back into the set.

To start the third set, the spraying of forehands continued, but Roger seemed to steady himself, and it was Marat who got tight, particularly on the backhand side.

With Marat’s tightness, Roger’s ‘calm’ demeanor increased, and so did the poise with which he positioned himself and readied for winners.  The splaying of forehands ceased, and Roger started making spectacular volleys that exploited corners, or winners with top-spin that kept Marat out of position.  Smooth.

Safin went on to defeat Lleyton Hewitt in the Australian Open Finals.

Safin went on to defeat Lleyton Hewitt in the Australian Open Finals.

The fans started to be treated to loud, incomprehensible, on-court muttering in Russian.  Then the first of 2 racket smashes to the Rebound-Ace surface (this time not broken).

The brilliant shot-making from Roger continued.  One lunging volley (closely resembling a ballet dancer executing a ‘Grand Jete’) expertly took pace of the ball and simultaneously changed its direction for an angled winner.

Marat responded with an extended rally that in a matter of several strokes, like an American football team on the line of scrimmage, pushed Roger from inside the ad court, to well behind the baseline, before he broke Roger with a cross-court winner out of Roger’s reach.

Roger likewise responded with gigantic forehand winners of his own (165 kmh!)

But Marat refused to be cowed, pressing every opportunity to smash Roger’s second serve.  Eventually Roger became tentative with anxiety over his serving, and the two played this way, mano-a-mano, each trying to turn that doorknob on the other, ’til Roger broke Marat in the last game to win the third set.  (The second racket smash came at that critical point, Marat trying to erase set point, and losing his poise.)

Now Roger tried to slam the door firmly against Marat, and close off the win, but the previous set seemed to take a lot out of him. One point saw Roger move to net with footwork that resembled a balletic ‘Assemble,’ executed while reaching for the ball at his feet. Only he tripped over his feet on that one – not so smooth!.

Another 19-shot rally finished with Roger sitting one of those linesman’s chair at the back of the court sucking wind. (I’ve never seen Roger do that before or since).  Another point saw Roger execute a 360 degree ‘Pirouette,’ inside the ad court, only to hit the ball into the net.

Both men played a comprehensive variety of brilliant tennis in this set: exploiting angles; backhand volleys; slice, slice slice.  More Russian phrases.  Quite a few ‘yes’!’ from Roger, as well as ‘Aaack!’ (or was it ‘Nyyyyet’?)  But Roger was the one who was tentative, and a little passive, when at the 3 hour mark, the match entered the 4th set tie-break.

While Federer has gone on to win 12 Grand Slams since the 2005 Australian Open, Safin has not raised the trophy at another Grand Slam.

While Federer has gone on to win 12 Grand Slams since the 2005 Australian Open, Safin has not raised the trophy at another Grand Slam.

Seemed like a good time to pull out the aces – sort of Russian Roulette style, with the Russian loosing the ace contest.  And one of those quintessential Federer shots, a slice, bending short ball that bounced once then changed direction and bent out perpendicular to the direction it was going in.  Classic! No chance. Match Point, Federer.

Then ensued a suite of some of the most remarkable points in tennis, played by one of the most mercurial men in tennis. Power forehands.  Pirouettes from Roger.  Rushing the net.  A desperate failed attempt at a ‘tweener’ (Roger got it right in the 2009 semi-final against Novak Djokovic – the best point he ever played in his career, he said – he got it wrong in the 4th set
tie-break against Marat Safin in the 2005 AO semi-final).

The Deciding Set commenced with more incomprehensible Russian phrases and hand waving (no racket throwing though!), though Marat was the smoother of the two. As with the start of the 4th set, the start of the 5th set saw Roger seemingly lose all his balletic grace and smooth footwork.

Ground-stroke rallies, with fantastic pace, at 30 shots apiece ensued. Safin was Nadal-like in generating pace off of Roger’s slice, but
un-Nadal-like in his retrievals (often from outside the doubles alley), and Roger won most of these rallies.

So Marat went back to attacking the second serve, volleying, and keeping the points short.

Roger, about a half-step slow compared to Marat, looking down and out, resorted to lobs (one as he neared match point, yet another quintessential, classic Roger lob – that drew Marat’s appreciative applause), but after being broken, faced match point down against Marat.

More fantastic tennis as Roger fought off two match points.  Then two more. Then Roger broke back! (No racket slamming by Marat, but he did march forward to emphatically squash a moth, with a loud crunch, that was trapped on the Rebound-Ace).  It looked to be one of Roger’s greatest come-backs.

But neither player could cleanly slam the door on the other.  The two men began serving into each other’s body.  At other times the rapid fire points at net resembled those of a ping-pong match.

The commentators noted that the only thing not being used in the match was the back of each other’s chair.

The door started to slam shut against Marat at 13-14 games of the 5th set, as he launched a couple of lobs that didn’t work, and nervously missing some forehands.  But when Match point(s) came, Marat was able to find his range and fight them off.  A critical double fault from Roger helped out.

Roger’s body language suggested fatigue.  He slumped between points, and fell to his knees at one point.  When Marat began opening up the court and hitting clean winners, it was all over for Roger. He’d saved 5 match points (and generated an equal number of his own against Marat), but wasn’t able to hold off the 6th.

Mercury gleams silver and round.  Sort of like the curve of the AO’s trophy. Marat would go on to win his second and last Grand Slam victory.

Final score: (5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 9-7)


For more of the Pillars of Roger’s Career see (many of these still to come), see this URL:  Pillars of Roger’s Career.  Also listed here:

  • Federer/Hewitt vs Rafter/Bjorkman – 1999 Wimbledon
  • Roger vs Pete – 2000 Wimbledon
  • Rafter vs Federer – 2001 Halle
  • Agassi vs Federer – 2002 Miami Harbinger of things to Come
  • Kuerten vs Federer – 2003 Indian Wells
  • Hewitt vs Federer Davis Cup – 2003
  • Nadal vs Federer – 2004 Miami; the start of something great!
  • Federer vs Agassi – 2004 USO
  • Federer vs Roddick 2004 WTF where Federer saves 3 match points.
  • Roger Federer vs Marat Safin – Tennis Masters Cup 2004. Perhaps some ofRoger’s best tennis.
  • Safin vs Federer – AO 2005. Mercury is Marat – or is it Roger?
  • Roger Federer vs Juan Carlos Ferrero – Dubai 2005
  • Roger vs Rafa – Miami 2005
  • Federer vs Santoro – New York 2005.
  • Rafa vs Roger – Rome 2006 [Bleacher Report]
  • Roger vs Rafa – Wimbledon 2007
  • Roger Federer vs Andy Roddick: New York 2007
  • Roger Federer vs Janko Tipsarevic: Melbourne 2008 Roger pushed to the limit!
  • Roger Federer vs Murray 2008 USO
  • Murray vs Federer 2008 WTF Federer shows fortitude, though he lost.
  • Federer vs Del Potro – AO 2009 Roger demolishes Del Potro [Bleacher Report]

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