Wow. I don't really know what I want to say. Yesterday I said that I can see an opportunity for Feliciano Lopez to upset Roger Federer, considering his recent form. Well, I couldn't imagine how close I would be to the truth... As close as a 5-2 lead in a 3rd set tie-break, in fact. Then came a missed smash... and with it a lapse in concentration, that cost Feli the match.
Until that point, I think we might've seen the best tennis match of this year. Up to now, this title belonged (in my opinion) to the Djokovic-Nadal Miami final, but this was an entirely different level of play. In Miami, the first set had too many errors, the second - unexpected exhaustion, and only the last set -- which was also decided by a tiebreak -- gave us a tennis battle until the bitter end. One of those sets where you can't know until the very last second who will be the winner.
Well, today we had three sets like this. It started as usual, good service games from both players, some quality points, nothing unexpected, really - as Lopez was broken, and Federer served for the first set. But then something happened. And Lopez wasn't about to give in that easily. After several deuces, he finally managed to break back, and hold his own service game, to level it at 5-5, and then 6-all. And thus started an epic tiebreak - after trading minibreaks, both players held their serve for a very long time. My twitter filled up with Isner-Mahut references at that point. Eventually, Federer won the set with 15-13 in the tiebreak.
At this point, many people expected Lopez to break down, and lose the match easily. That is what the commentators on my local TV station predicted, at least. But they couldn't be further from the truth. Feli continued playing quite amazingly, and though he missed two break points, he won the set in another tiebreak, this time with a 7-1 score.
The third set showed us more of the same. Being 0-40 down on his own service, Lopez found the mental strength and the right shots to get back to deuce, saved another break point, and served the game out. Once again, we had a tiebreak, with no breaks of serve during the set. The Spanish crowd was chanting "Feeeeeli, Feeeeli" at that point. After a couple of holds, Feli hit a lovely cross-court winner, giving him a minibreak advantage, 3-1. After three more holds from both players, it was 5-2, and Roger was serving. As the next rally drew to an end, Feli prepared to hit a smash... which went out, denying him a match point. At 5-4, he had two more serves. He just needed another couple of good first serves (had a 100% win on 1st serves in the second set, by the way), to finish this match off and cause a huge upset. Alas, with the first serve going out, Roger managed to get the minibreak back, leveling it at 5-5. The next point brought Feli a match point, but it was Federer's turn to serve. 6-6, 7-7... And that was it. At 8-7 and a match point for Roger, Feli's shot was out, and the match was over.
25 aces to Feli's 23, and 7-6(13), (1)6-7, 7-6(7) for Roger, who goes on against Malisse in the third round tomorrow.
But for me, there was one hero to this match.
He played incredibly well, he never gave up, and he did it all against a player who might as well be the greatest tennis player of all times. Feliciano Lopez, I think you deserve a whole lot of respect for the way you played today.
(Photos: Julian Finney/Getty Images, PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP/Getty Images)