Federer beats battling Bellucci in Basel

Roger Federer was put to the test at his home Swiss Indoors on Wednesday but conjured up a 6-3, 6-7 (6/8), 7-5 defeat of Thomaz Bellucci to advance to the quarter-finals.

Federer beats battling Bellucci in Basel
Roger Federer celebrates with the ball boys and ball girls after winning last year's Swiss Indoors (Photopress/Alexandra Wey)

The champion at five of the last six editions needed all of his guile at the end to advance in just over three hours with eight aces and two breaks of serve.

Federer has now won 31 of his last 32 matches here, with his only loss coming against Novak Djokovic in the 2009 final.

The hometown star who got his first exposure to the game as a ballboy at the venue profitted from a day off on Tuesday while Bellucci, a weekend finalist in Moscow, had to go three sets the previous evening.

"It was a tough match but a very enjoyable one," said 17-time grand slam champion Federer, seeking his 77th title.

"I maybe had some luck at the end.

"I also had a rest while he was playing yesterday after a long trip. But Thomaz played really well, I had to work for this one."

Federer had a successful experiment with serve-and-volley tactics, mainly in the opening set, which he won in half an hour.

But Bellucci took the second into a tiebreaker, with Federer fighting to save four set points before finally losing on the fifth. It took a deciding set for the world number one to advance to his 66th season victory.

"I was very satisfied with how I played, All of the others play well against me, they raise their games for these matches."

Second seed Juan Martin del Potro overcame a first-set back problem to make a winning start 6-4, 6-1 over Alejandro Falla.

The South American battle finished in just under 90 minutes with del Potro running away with the second set.

"I was feeling tight in some parts of my body, but it was nothing dangerous," said the winner, "I will take care of it and be ready for my next match,

"I still made a good start to this event, I couldn't serve huge like last week in Vienna. But I won in two sets and that's good for the confidence and for saving energy for the next match."

Del Potro is hunting for one of two remaining spots in the eight-man year-end championships in London from November 5, standing provisional seventh ahead of French back injury victim Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and number nine Serb Janko Tipsarevic, who quit this week – as did Tsonga – with a physical problem at the Valencia event.

"Qualifying for London is very important for me," said del Potro. "I'm very excited to be so close, it's a big goal.   

"But I've not qualified yet. I need to win more matches. I hope to get there either this week or next."

There was trouble for two other seeds, with Frenchman Benoit Paire upsetting last week's Moscow titleholder Andreas Seppi, the number five seed, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Australian Marinko Matosevic put out Florian Mayer, the German seventh seed, 6-2, 6-3. Paul-Henri Mathieu of France beat Swiss-Finn Henri Laaksonen 6-2, 7-5.

Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov joined Federer in the last eight with his defeat of Julien Benneteau 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (1/7), 7-6 (7/3).

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Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?

Roger Federer is talking optimistically about returning to his "highest level" after knee surgery, but does tennis have to start adjusting to a future without the Swiss star?

Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?
Is it the end of the line for Roger? Photo: Martin BUREAU / AFP

The 20-time Grand Slam winner announced on Wednesday that he would be sidelined until 2021 after his second operation in a matter of months.

Federer remains upbeat, tweeting: “I plan to take the necessary time to be 100 percent ready to play at my highest level.”

In some ways 2020 is a good season to miss after the coronavirus ravaged the tennis schedule. Writing Federer off in the past has proved dangerous.

He returned from a six-month injury lay-off to claim the Australian Open in 2017, winning his eighth Wimbledon crown later that year.

But he will be 40 in 2021 and is now heading into uncharted territory.

Despite his groaning trophy cabinet, there are two factors that will motivate Federer to keep going — the risk of losing his grip on the men's Grand Slam title record and a missing Olympics singles gold medal.

Rafael Nadal has 19 majors, just one shy of Federer's mark and Djokovic has 17.

Spain's Nadal will be fancied to draw level with Federer at the French Open, rescheduled for September, while few would bet against Djokovic winning in New York weeks earlier.

In April, Federer said he was “devastated” when Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II. Last year he fell agonisingly short at the All England Club, failing to convert two championship points on his own serve against Djokovic.

The Wimbledon grass probably remains his best chance of adding to his Grand Slam collection — he has not won the US Open since 2008 and his only title at Roland Garros came in 2009.

Even though Federer has slipped from the very pinnacle of the game, he is still a major threat to Nadal and Djokovic.

'Golden' ambitions

Last year, the world number four had a 53-10 win-loss record and he reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January in his only tournament this year.

Federer, who is still six ATP titles short of Jimmy Connors' all-time record of 109, has one glaring omission from his CV — the Olympic title.

The Swiss won doubles gold in Beijing in 2008 with compatriot Stan Wawrinka but lost in the singles final to Andy Murray in London four years later.

The postponed Tokyo Games will almost certainly be Federer's last opportunity to complete a career “golden” Grand Slam — he will turn 40 on the day of the closing ceremony next year.

Tennis will feel the loss of the elegant Federer keenly when he walks off the court for the last time.

Djokovic and Nadal have been the dominant forces in recent years but the Swiss remains the biggest draw and last month topped Forbes' list of the world's highest-earning athletes.

His last appearance on court was in front of nearly 52,000 fans — touted by organisers as a world record for tennis — at a charity match against Nadal in Cape Town in February.

Federer is nearly always the crowd favourite wherever he plays and has proved a perfect ambassador for the sport since he won his first Grand Slam title in 2003.

He certainly expects to be back and competitive next year.

“I will be missing my fans and the tour dearly but I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season,” he tweeted.

The avalanche of support from his adoring fans showed they would miss him too, but they will have to get used to a time when he is gone for good.