Over a thousand fans welcomed Roger Federer in Tokyo. Two months before his maiden appearance at the Japan Open in 2006, organizers asked him to practice at 10 am on Centre Court on the first day of the tournament. “I did not understand why but I decided it would be ok,” he wrote that week in a blog he wrote for the ATP website.
“Now I understand why. The tournament had promoted it as my first official practice in Japan and opened it to the public. It was great to see so many fans out there for an early morning practice”. "It was really great fun to have my practice announced officially at 10 a.m.
on centre court," Federer, coming off his third straight Us Open title, told reporters. "I can't remember ever having that. We had ball boys and everything. The only thing missing was the umpire!" Federer had already played a special match the previous Saturday when he met the Crown Prince Naruhito at one of the Imperial Palaces.
Naruhito apparently revealed to be a skilled tennis player as he and Federer played and won a doubles set with a couple of juniors in one of the two clay courts he had wanted there. “I must admit that the Prince hit some fantastic winners and was a great partner,” the Swiss wrote.
Federer won in two tiebreaks his opening match to Viktor Troicki and easily dismissed the powerful but inconsistent South African Wesley Moodie, the 13th seed. The night before the match, he wrote, he woke up in the middle of the night.
“I must have had a nightmare. I jumped out of bed and stood up screaming in a state of shock, I did not know where I was and I ran back and hit the corner of the bed which is solid wood and sharp. Luckily Mirka was there, she woke up because of all the noise that I made, turned on the light on, grabbed me and told me to relax”.
He couldn't relax, however, on Friday, October 6. Tokyo woke up under a heavy rain. On the day devoted to the quarter-finals, on the indoor Centre Court thanks to the roof, he was scheduled the third match “but I had to wait a long time as both women’s matches before mine went to the three sets” he noted.
The scenario remained the same as Federer had a rough going and pulled out a third-set tiebreak to defeat Japanese wildcard Takao Suzuki, ranked No.1,078 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(3). Federer reached 1,346 points in the Race, already breaking his record set last year by a single ranking point.
He will meet No.14 seed and former Baylor University Benjamin Becker. The American who beat Andre Agassi in his very last match appeared in his first career ATP semifinal. In the other semifinal, Hyung-Taik Lee will face Tim Henman.
In the semifinals, for the first time in his whole career, Roger Federer completed a match-winning all his first-serve points as he would do against Janko Tipsarevic at 2010 Basel, Andy Murray at 2014 ATP Finals, Frances Tiafoe at 2017 Basel and Jeremy Chardy at 2018 Indian Wells.
That year, our Jovica Ilic noted, reached “the peak of his domination (…): he played 97 matches, winning 92 of those and lifting 12 trophies from 17 tournaments he entered”. In the semifinals, he beat “Germany's Benjamin Becker by 6-3 6-4 in exactly an hour.
This was their first meeting (they would play 4 times, with Roger taking them all in straight sets) and Roger advanced to the final with a single break in each set, controlling the scoreboard and holding the strings in his hands”.
Becker “did a fine job in forcing 14 mistakes from his opponent, 8 from the backhand wing, but he made 12 as well, so that couldn't give him the edge. Ast nothing could separate them in the shortest points up to 4 strokes (35-33 for Roger) and in 13 longest rallies (8-5 for the Swiss) but the mid-range exchanges from 5 to 8 shots were the area where Federer made the crucial buffer, taking 17 out of 25 to wrap up the triumph”.
Federer was living the time of his life, he was becoming a religious experience to quote one of the most famous essays by David Foster Wallace. “Hitting thousands of strokes, day after day, develops the ability to do by “feel” what cannot be done by regular conscious thought.
Repetitive practice like this often looks tedious or even cruel to an outsider, but the outsider can’t feel what’s going on inside the player — tiny adjustments, over and over, and a sense of each change’s effects that gets more and more acute even as it recedes from normal consciousness” he wrote, Before the final, the Swiss revealed in his blog for the ATP website that week, he warmed up with his opponent, Tim Henman.
“Tim and I chatted together in the locker room while we were waiting for the women’s final to finish. We were playing with a rugby ball and he was throwing the ball so well. Like me, he played so many sports growing up and you can tell he was good at rugby as he throws a perfect ball” he wrote.
Struggling in windy conditions at Ariake Coliseum, Henman conceded three straight double faults to allow Federer to take a 4-2 lead in the first set. "When he served three double faults, that just gave me the first set," said Federer.
"It was hard for him after the three double faults because if you want to win you just can't do that." Federer, surely not keen to forgive the Brit, closed out the opening set with an ace. Federer, playing in his first tournament since winning the US Open, broke Henman again to take a 2-1 lead in the second set.
"It wasn't easy today," said Henman, who conceded six double faults throughout the match in his maiden top-tier ATP final since Indian Wells in 2004 and saw his ranking drop from a career-high No. 4 in 2002 to No.
55. "The wind was a factor and I had trouble with my serve, but his ability to hit passing shots so well and consistently is what makes it so difficult. He was just too good." The Swiss needed 67 minutes to complete the 63 63 victories.
"I was able to come up with some great passing shots at the right time," said Federer. "It's been a great year so far. To come here for the first time and win this tournament is a great feeling. I hope to come back next year and defend the title." Japanese fans are waiting for him yet.