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Roger Federer Faceplanted On The Grass

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That little, fluttery lurch in your stomach? That’s the feeling of your Wimbledon hopes shriveling up just a little bit. Roger Federer, bearing a new haircut and the swollen expectations of fans spoiled by his season to date, was shocked by world No. 302 Tommy Haas in the second round of the Stuttgart Open, a tournament with a draw so soft he could have started clearing out shelf space for the title before it even started. Despite winning the first set in 23 minutes and having a chance to close out the match in the second-set tiebreak, Federer lost to his fellow veteran with a one-hander, 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4. It was just the second loss of Federer’s 19-2 season, the other being an upset by world No. 116 Eugene “Donkey” Donskoy in Dubai.

As Carl Bialik noted, today’s loss shared some unusual features with the previous one: the Swiss won more points total, won a higher percentage of return points, and had a match point. (For those keeping track at home: Federer has yet to play a match in 2017 where he did not produce a match point.) Today Federer also had more total breaks of serve than Haas, but somewhat excruciatingly failed to convert any of his seven break opportunities in the final set.


It’s been 73 days since Federer last played a professional tennis match, and it’s been 15 years since Federer lost his first match at a grass-court event. The green stuff suits him well: fast so his aggressive forehands and serves are that much more likely to hiss by as winners; low-bouncing and thus complementary to the comically precise timing that lets him scrape up balls just inches off the lawn. Even though he’s returned to his preferred surface, it no longer looks like he’ll take to it quite the way Nadal tore up the clay; he’ll return next week at Halle—a tournament he’s won eight times—to regain some momentum in time for Wimbledon, which is still a few weeks away.

Federer and Haas both have over a decade of fine tennis in their pasts, but right now in 2017, one of them is still winning majors, and the other one has already moved on to managing tournaments (that the other one also wins). This stark contrast made the result that much sweeter for the elder Haas. “I’m a little bit speechless that I beat him today. It’s been awhile since I have won back-to-back matches and to do it today against Roger is obviously one of my career highlights. It’s a very special feeling,” he said. That this match between a 35- and 39-year-old even took place was already a victory for elite athletic geezers: the ATP says it’s the oldest matchup the tour has seen since 1982, when Ricardo Cano, 30, defeated Luis Ayala, 49.

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