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ATP ANALYSIS: Roger Federer, 17, reaches the Rotterdam QF in 1999

ATP ANALYSIS: Roger Federer, 17, reaches the Rotterdam QF in 1999

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by Jovica Ilic

In 1998, Roger Federer ended his junior career on a high note, winning the Orange Bowl and finishing as the number 1 player on the ITF junior list. He already had a chance to make an ATP debut in Gstaad, after winning junior Wimbledon, and we also saw him in Toulouse and Basel, gathering some precious experience on the big stage.

In February 1999, talented Swiss got a chance to compete in Marseille, where he beat world number 5 Carlos Moya, and 2 weeks later he was in Rotterdam, advancing to another ATP quarter-final at the age of 17, after beating world number 30 Bohdan Ulihrach by 6-4 7-5 in just 65 minutes.

Rotterdam was only the 5th ATP tournament for Swiss teenager and he fought well in the quarters versus world number 2 Yevgeny Kafelnikov as well, losing the third set 6-4. Against Ulihrach, Roger had a chance to play on the Centre court and this one of the earliest full matches of his career that were recorded.

Played on indoor carpet, it was a fast and fluid match and Federer got the opportunity to show his talent and the abilities on this kind of surface, dominating with his serve and forehand at such a young age. Interestingly, the stands were almost completely empty, as nobody could have predicted that one of the future greatest players of all time was in action.

Youngster served great, losing just 11 points in 11 service games, never facing a deuce or a break point in his games (Ulihrach came close to 40-30 but on all 3 occasions Roger closed the game with an ace). On the other hand, Czech struggled on his second serve and he had to play against 7 break points, losing serve once in each set to end on the losing side.

Federer was more aggressive (Bohdan played his best tennis on clay) and he kept the points on his racquet. Of course, his backhand was still a flaw and he made 18 errors from that wing, but Ulihrach was unable to control the rallies and push rival's weaker wing more.

Roger had 24 service winners, proving that he already developed a huge weapon from his initial shot, and Ulihrach stayed on 15, which was already a nice difference for the young Swiss. Federer had the upper hand in the rallies as well, hitting 15 forehand winners and 18 in total to completely overpower his rival, who had only 7 (42-22 for Roger in winners segment overall).

In terms of errors, Roger made 17 unforced (12 from his backhand), 4 more than his rival, and he also had more forced errors, 14-10, but that was not enough for Ulihrach to make the difference, as he was beaten badly in the direct points range.

The points were mostly quick, and Federer had a 45-35 advantage in the shortest ones, up to 4 strokes. He beat his rival in the mid-range exchanges as well, by 18-13, and it was 8-6 for Ulihrach in the 14 points that reached 9 strokes or more.

Bohdan served first and he held after 2 deuces, as Roger returned 9 out of 10 serves. Czech made 4 unforced errors but he didn't have to play against break points so early on. Federer's opening service game was way more impressive, hitting 3 service winners, setting the tone for the rest of the match.

Ulihrach had 3 service winners in game 3 as well and Roger leveled the score at 2-2, closing the game with 2 sharp serve&forehand combos, that will bring him so much in the future. Bohdan managed to exploit rival's backhand to gain another lead but the youngster was there to compete, making another easy hold for a 3-3.

He was placing his serve well and he gained the advantage in the points with well-constructed attacks from his initial groundstroke. Roger drew first blood in game 7, setting up 2 break points with forehand winners and he converted the first after another good attack.

Federer cemented the break with 4 service winners in game 8, moving 5-3 ahead, and Ulihrach reduced the deficit with an easy hold in game 9, hitting the first volley winner of the match (they didn't play serve&volley often).

Serving for the set, Roger had 3 service winners and 1 from smash to seal the deal by 6-4, closing the set in style after losing just 6 points in 5 service games. The Swiss had a 12-8 advantage in service winners and a 6-4 lead in the winners from the field, while Ulihrach made more unforced errors, 6-5.

Roger committed 7 forced errors against 4 from Bohdan but the set was his after that lone break he made. Ulihrach was solid at the start of the second set, hitting 2 service winners and getting 2 errors from Roger from his backhand wing, who already had 9 of those.

On the other hand, Roger's serve and forehand still worked like a charm, and he closed the second game with 3 service winners and 1 from forehand to continue his domination in own games. Bohdan pushed rival's backhand again in game 3 but he was still powerless on the return, unable to resist against strong and precise serves from the 17-year-old, as Roger leveled the score at 2-2.

In game 5, Ulihrach came from 0-30 down, taking 4 points in a row for a hold, with 2 service winners and 2 mistakes from Federer. Swiss was still rock solid in his games, leveling the score at 3-3 with 3 more winners, looking better and better as the match progressed.

That put his rival under the pressure to repeat the same on his serve, and Roger had a huge chance to break him in game 7 and move closer to the finish line. There were 3 deuces and Federer created 3 break points, only to come short on all of them, missing the opportunity to move ahead.

Ulihrach endured long rallies on all 3 break points, receiving 3 errors from the youngster, and he held after yet another backhand mistake from Federer, who was very frustrated by the way the game slipped away from him. He forgot it soon, though, hitting 3 service winners in the 8th game to make the result even at 4-4, sending the pressure back to the other side of the court.

In the 9th game, he had another break point, clearly being the better player on the court in the last 15 minutes or so, but the Czech fends it off with a service winner, bringing the game home with a volley winner at the net for a 5-4.

Federer stroke 3 winners in game 10, showing no signs of nerves, and he was ready to charge on the return again in the following game. This time around, Ulihrach couldn't find the way out, gifting 2 break points to Roger with unforced errors, and dropping serve after a costly double fault, that couldn't come in the worse moment.

Roger opened the final game with 2 service winners and he sealed the deal with his 15th forehand winner of the match, scoring his second biggest win in terms of ranking up to date and setting the quarter-final clash with Kafelnikov.

In the second set, it was 12-7 in service winners for the Swiss, and he was much more efficient from the court as well, hitting 12 winners compared to just 3 from Ulihrach. The aggressive game drew errors as well, Federer had 12 unforced errors while Bohdan stayed on 7, and it was 7-6 for Roger in forced errors department, which couldn't change anything in the overall result.


Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies:

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