March 11, 2021
It wasn’t to be for Roger Federer in Doha, despite the best efforts of his noisy fans.
He only needed to win one more point to progress. But the energy simply wasn’t there after all the exertions of the previous day.
It isn’t the first time Roger has squandered a match point, as spectators at the 2019 Wimbledon final will know.
But this match was just the second step in Federer’s long build-up to Wimbledon 2021.
It wasn’t particularly important, though the popular Swiss would have liked to win.
Instead it was Nikoloz Basilashvili who made a dream come true with a 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory.
‘He is my idol and I’m so happy,’ the Georgian said afterwards.
The fans in Qatar still got their money’s worth and clearly delighted in the show.
There was a marvellous moment at the start of the third set when those spectators shrieked their support for Roger.
They were imploring him to raise his level again and roll back the years.
Federer responded in dashing style and the crowd cheered once more.
But the genius looked tired. It was taking an enormous effort just to hold serve. Midway through the decider, the underdog looked more dangerous.
The crowd were carrying Federer as he fended off break points to edge 4-3 ahead. It seemed there was practically nothing left in the tank.
And yet somehow Basilashvili had to serve to stay in the match at 4-5. Indeed he saved a match point as he battled his way back into contention.
The Federer stamina and sharpness will no doubt return in good time for Wimbledon 2021.
Seven aces in the first set helped him stay on top. There were spectacular forehand and backhand winners from the great man too.
It wasn’t a perfect performance, however, even at that stage. He faced break points in a couple of his service games during the entertaining opener.
But you still wondered whether Basilashvili possessed quite the quality of Britain’s Dan Evans to give Roger a serious problem.
That changed at the start of the second set.
Federer lost concentration and allowed his level to dip a little.
The Georgian pounced and broke to lead 2-0. Roger then squandered three successive break points to trail 0-3.
Before we knew it, Basilashvili was growing in confidence and storming his way to parity.
The tide never truly turned back in Federer’s favour, close as he came.
The Swiss legend knew deep down that playing another dramatic three-setter wasn’t an ideal scenario if he wanted to be able to perform at the business end of his comeback tournament.
That’s no longer an issue after those thirteen months out of the game started to show.
There was certainly nothing in Basilashvili’s recent form to suggest that he was capable of pulling off this shock under ordinary circumstances.
If he plays Federer in a few months’ time, he will probably have little chance at all. Right place, right time for the winner and he deserved his moment of glory.
As he gets back in the groove, Federer will find familiar ways to get the job done.
He will know he has to find the killer touch more quickly, too.
If he is to have a serious title chance at Wimbledon 2021, Federer will have to be more ruthless to conserve energy in the first week.
All these things are well within the capabilities of the world’s favourite player.
He will hit peak fitness for Wimbledon 2021. He has promised as much and we don’t doubt him.