Roger Federer, the top seed, will face fifth seed Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals of the ATP 500 Swiss Indoors in Basel, Switzerland. It will be the second meeting between the two after they clashed at the same stage of the Swiss event last season. The Swiss won that match 6-3, 7-6 (2).
The two men set up their clash with contrasting wins. Federer was up first against 55th ranked Denis Istomin. The world No. 2 led Istomin 5-0 before the clash and interestingly the only set he had dropped against the Russian was the first set in their match in the fourth round of last year’s Swiss Indoors event. History repeated itself today as Istomin took the first set. Federer, who had been in impeccable form winning his opening match in 47 minutes, recovered to take the next two sets with the same scoreline to win the match 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Dimitrov had the reverse experience. His opening match saw him drop the first set against young hope Alexander Zverev before he regrouped to take the match in three. In his fourth round match against Vasek Pospisil, ranked 44, Dimitrov cruised through 6-2, 6-2 against an uninspired opponent who could not get his forehand going. Dimitrov was too imposing for the Canadian and sped into the quarter-final clash with Federer.
The contest of the 33 year old 17 time slam champion versus the once nicknamed “Baby Fed” will be a much anticipated one. For Dimitrov is not such a baby anymore. The 23 year old has grown up quite a bit since his clash with the Swiss at last year’s event. He has won a further three titles, including an ATP 500 event in Acapulco, broken into the top ten and made his first grand slam semi-final at Wimbledon.
Federer, though, has improved a lot since his meeting with Dimitrov, too. In fact, the last time they met, the Swiss was at his most vulnerable for almost a decade. The Swiss had been beaten in the fourth round of the U.S Open and Shanghai and dropped to a world ranking of No. 6 after being ranked No. 1 a year before. This year a quite different Federer enters the clash with Dimitrov. One committed to attacking tennis and with a racket designed to compensate for his advanced years. It took a career best performance from Marin Cilic to knock him out of the U.S Open semi-finals, and the Swiss then convincingly beat world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on his run to the Shanghai Rolex Masters title.
That form might be too much for Dimitrov whose progress seems to have stalled recently as his ranking dropped from a career high of No. 8 in August to No. 11. He was beaten by Gael Monfils in the fourth round of the U.S Open, handed a heavy defeat by Djokovic in Beijing, upset in the round of 32 in Shanghai, and was unable to defend his Stockholm title, losing to Tomas Berdych in the final.
However, a run to the quarter-final here should boost Dimitrov’s confidence and he will have nothing to lose against Federer. The home crowd advantage the Swiss will have should not be too overbearing either with the Bulgarian having experienced it last year. Dimitrov also comes up against a world No. 2 with a lot on his mind- Federer has the off court distractions of his rocky relationship with the tournament organizers (Federer plays the event without a contract) and the pressure of the year end ATP No. 1 ranking in the balance.
Federer, though, has said that the opportunity to end the year world No. 1 is a surprise and that taking the opportunity is a priority. With history on the cards, Federer would claim the year end No. 1 ranking for the sixth time in his career (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009) and would equal Pete Sampras’ six finishes at the top spot.
Few have pursued history with quite the same hunger and history will most likely repeat itself in tomorrow’s quarter-final clash with Federer claiming a convincing win over the Bulgarian after a tough battle with Istomin.
Commentary by Christian Deverille