Roger Federer was surprisingly tested by 35-year-old Radek Stepanek in his 2nd round win in Dubai, being taken to a 3rd set after a loss of the 2nd set tiebreak. But as the picture suggests, he finally put his head down and eventually claimed victory. It really was kind of a strange match. On the one hand there was some brilliance really from both players, but there was also some ugliness mixed in with many breaks of serve, double faults, and just unforced errors that left us shaking our heads. To his credit Stepanek played a strong match, showing how badly he wanted it with some diving shots around the court. It's easy sometimes to look at a player like Stepanek and think it will be an easy win for Roger with their head-to-head and the fact he hasn't even won a set off of Federer since 2008. We forget, though, that he is a seasoned player who knows what he's doing on the court, has had some great success in Davis Cup to give him confidence, and he can trouble the top players even if he doesn't necessarily pull off the win.
In an interview following the match Roger revealed that he usually struggles in early rounds in Dubai due to the quick courts and getting used to the conditions. This made me feel a bit better, since I really was a bit puzzled by some of what was going on. He also said the following after the match:
“I started to understand what I was doing wrong,” said Federer.
“Which made me maybe play a little bit tentatively from the baseline,
what made me not make enough shots [and] why I wasn't playing as
aggressively as I wanted to. I couldn't find the right balance between
offense and defense.
“It was almost a bit too late for everything, but I kind of hung
around and I took the positives out of the match. Radek did a good job
of putting the pressure on me and mixing it up. From that standpoint, it
was a really difficult match. I'm very pleased to come through.”
Maybe having to struggle in this win will be what he needs to fully adjust to the conditions and be ready for bigger matches ahead. His next opponent is Lukas Rosol, who he has never played before. Rosol has the potential to take out the big guys, such as with his shock win against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon a couple years ago, but overall he has struggled since then, so if Roger stays committed to playing his game he should come out of that match to likely face Novak Djokovic, who is looking like a force to be reckoned with so far this tournament. But one match at a time. For now we will be happy with the victory that looked a little questionable for a while.