After four dominant years on the men's Tour, Roger Federer had to slow down a bit in 2008, winning four titles and suffering 15 losses, a significant number when we know he had only 24 between 2004-07. Novak Djokovic toppled him in straight sets in the Australian Open semi-final, so as Andy Murray in the Dubai first round, with the Swiss traveling to Indian Wells eager to improve his form and restore the order at the event he won three titles in the last four years.
Federer lost 14 games in the first three rounds against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Nicolas Mahut and Ivan Ljubicic before Tommy Haas gave him a walkover in the quarters to set up a clash with world no. 98 Mardy Fish. The American kicked off the season ranked inside the top-40 but lost the ground in the first couple of months, entering Indian Wells ranked barely inside the top-100 after failing to defend the points in the previous tournaments.
He picked up the form in the desert and played one of his best matches ever to topple Federer 6-3, 6-2 in 64 minutes, advancing to his second Masters 1000 final after Cincinnati 2003! It was their sixth meeting and the first triumph for Mardy, who dropped the last nine sets played against the great Swiss.
Besides that, it was the worst defeat for Roger on hard courts in terms of the rival's ranking since Indianapolis 2000 when James Sekulov (191st) ousted him 6-4, 7-5 just before the 19th birthday, and his toughest loss overall since Monte Carlo 2005 and Richard Gasquet.
It was even more unusual to witness such a commanding win for Fish when we know he served at only 34%, drawing the most from the initial shot and losing just 13 points in his games, saving the only break point he faced to keep the pressure on the other side of the net.
In 2008, Roger Federer suffered a heavy loss to Mardy Fish in Indian Wells.
Roger struggled to find the rhythm, and his serve was exposed by Mardy's deep and precise returns, dropping 43% of the points in his games and getting broken thrice from seven chances offered to the American.
Fish controlled his shots more efficiently, finishing the encounter with 26 winners and 19 unforced errors, in comparison to 14 winners and 25 mistakes from Roger, who couldn't fight for at least one set. It was the best start for Mardy, who fired a forehand winner to break Roger in game two and set the tone for the rest of the clash.
Federer could have pulled the break back in the very next game, netting a return on the break chance, the only he would create in this encounter. The American completed the game with two aces and forged a 3-0 lead after just nine minutes.
The Swiss was far below his usual level, having to save two break points in game four to get his name on the scoreboard and reduce the deficit to 3-1, hoping to raise his game and return to the positive side of the scoreboard.
However, that didn't happen, as confident Fish closed the opening set with a hold at 15 at 5-3 after Federer's forehand error. Things went from bad to worse for world no. 1, who got broken at the beginning of the second set after a return winner from Mardy, who cemented the lead with an ace in game two for a set and a break advantage.
Roger's return stayed somewhere on the practice court, and Fish grabbed another game with a service winner to increase the lead to 3-1 and move closer to the finish line. His triumph became inevitable after a break in game five, opening a 5-1 advantage with a hold at love and forcing his rival to serve for staying in the match after only an hour.
Roger saved two match points to prolong his campaign, although it was all over when Mardy held at 15 in game eight for his career's most significant victory and the place in the final where he would lose to Novak Djokovic.