Basel Blues

Basel, Second Round

(3) Federer d. Nieminen, 6/1 4/6 6/3

Mayer d. (6) Tipsarevic, 5/1 ret.

The word is that Basel is playing fast, as it should, although the vision is that it is playing blue, which is a shame. Gone is that uniquely dusted pink and confectionery lilac surface, upon which Roger Federer – last year a lissom vision in lavender – gambolled to a fourth title. He’s now clad in blue, the court is blue, and it’s all a bit of a downer.

Something new: Federer has by now progressed through to the quarterfinals, and beneath the blue shell the real colour has been rust. Last night, something happened that has never happened before. For the first time in twelve career meetings, Federer dropped a set to Jarkko Niemenin. He still won, and the third set wasn’t especially close, but so ineluctable has the discourse of his decline become that even this will be read in that drearily fading light. To do so we must momentarily forget that Federer has barely played in a month, and that Nieminen has played a lot, but history glosses such details anyway.

Federer will next face the winner of Andy Roddick and Radek Stepanek. Roddick surely dreams of a head-to-head as healthy as 0-12. The American is 2-20 against Federer. Indeed, the entire quarter seems populated exclusively by Federer’s hapless whipping boys from better part of last decade. Now that Andy Murray’s on-again-off-again appearance is off-again – a tweaked back, apparently – the defending champion will surely fancy his chances to make the final. Actually, that last sentence is patently ludicrous, since the art of being Roger Federer lies in always fancying his chances, rust or not, blue or otherwise.

Something old: Janko Tipsarevic has again retired from a tennis match, the third time he has succumbed so this year. Justly or not, it has kind of becoming his thing, and part of the larger narrative whereby 2011 becomes the year in which precautionary retirements become sadly de rigeur. In any case, his latest withdrawal has prompted someone over at menstennisforums to a little archaeological work, and they’ve unearthed figures to reinforce the sense that Tipsarevic retires a lot. I suppose we knew it anyway, but it it’s always useful to have a number placed alongside these things. The number in this case is 13.5%, and it confirms that more than one in every eight of Tipsarevic losses comes before the match’s natural conclusion. We can place this alongside his career retirement Golden Grand Slam, an accolade that has thus far eluded even Djokovic.

I am fairly sure (without checking) that there are other players with worse records in this respect  (even ignoring Djokovic’s skewed 2011 stats, in which 66.6% of his losses have been retirements). But there is a reason we don’t hear much about other’s achievements in this field – and some are prolific – and yet are reminded constantly about an infamous few. It has everything to do with reputation. In Tipsarevic’s case, his notorious showing in the Eastbourne final has guaranteed that whenever he withdraws the reaction even from sympathetic fans is not one of surprise. The cynics, of course, have a field day. I am personally quite partial to the guy, and find his game attractive, but I feel my cynicism growing.

Nothing borrowed.

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