Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Federer Taking Charge Early In 2012

Federer in top form in Dubai.
Roger Federer claimed his second title of this young tennis season on Saturday night, beating Britain's Andy Murray in straight sets at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Federer, currently ranked third in the world, delivered an absolute clinic in the final versus the fourth-ranked Murray, and in doing so collected his fifth career tournament trophy in Dubai.

On route to his 72nd ATP title, Federer executed his game plan flawlessly, punishing Murray with blistering inside-out forehands, textbook backhands, and a dominating serve. Murray, who mounted an impressive semi-final victory against Novak Djokovic on Friday, never looked comfortable or in-command in the championship match against Federer on Saturday.

After winning a closely contested first set, Federer broke Murray's serve and gained the lead early in the second set. Murray continued to battle and, to his credit, managed to level the match by breaking right back in Federer's subsequent service game. While that break snapped a streak of 66 consecutive service game wins for Federer, it wasn't enough to push Murray into the winner's circle. Federer continued his shot-making clinic, at one point hitting an unbelievable no-look, backhand, passing shot, before eventually breaking Murray a second time and serving out the match.

After closing out the 2011 season with three consecutive tournament championships, the opportunity for a resurgent Federer to take charge in 2012 loomed large. With the notable exception of a surprising Davis Cup defeat at the hands of American John Isner, Federer appears to have seized that opportunity, returning to top form thus far in 2012.

Since the U.S. Open last September, Federer boasts a 33-2 match record, and the Swiss tennis master has hoisted the championship trophy in 5 of the 7 tournaments he has played. He has accrued more ATP rankings points than any other player since the U.S. Open, and he is within striking distance of Rafael Nadal and the #2 ranking.

Next up, the ATP tour starts the first leg of the American hard court season with two Masters-level events in March. Professional tennis heads to Indian Wells in Southern California next week, and then on to Miami later this month. With an excellent hard court game, no title points to defend, and no injuries to speak of, Federer is in a strong position to dominate these events and continue his charge back to the pinnacle of men's tennis.

Beyond March and into April, the ATP tour crosses the Atlantic to kick off the clay court season in Europe. While the red clay has traditionally been the undisputed territory of Nadal, Federer remains the second most successful player on clay in the last ten years. With Djokovic's amazing start in 2011, the Serbian #1 has a huge number of titles to defend, which leaves Federer again poised to pick up significant ranking points if he continues to perform well.

By the end of May when professional tennis reaches its next grand slam event at Roland Garros, Roger Federer may find himself in contention once again for the top ranking in men's tennis. To ascend to that height, he will have to maintain the level of play he has delivered in the last six months, and he'll likely need a little luck. Novak and Rafa will not relinquish their positions easily, and a whole host of challengers like Murray, Tsonga, and a healthy Del Potro are hungry and not far behind.

It remains to be seen if the greatest men's tennis player in history can secure his place as the best player of 2012, but a confident Roger Federer is an overwhelming force in tennis, regardless of who stands on the opposite side of the net.

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