At the Madrid Open, his first clay-court tournament in three years, Roger Federer found the tennis gods to be both kind and cruel in the clutch moments.
Aggressive play saved him in the third round against Gael Monfils, when he fended off two match points.
But in his next match against Dominic Thiem—currently playing some of the most impressive tennis of his career—Federer couldn’t convert his opportunities to close out the victory, losing two match points of his own.
As surprising a result as it might be for the player many consider the best to ever pick up a racquet, it’s not the first time that has happened to Federer.
It’s not even the first time that’s happened against Thiem in their head-to-head encounters—with the other occasion occurring on grass in Stuttgart in 2016.
Since his late-career renaissance in 2017, Federer has lost from match point up on four other occasions. Granted, closing out a win is difficult at any level, but for the man who’s made tennis look ridiculously easy at times, those results stand out.
In 2018, Federer dropped contests on two of the game’s biggest stages. At the first Masters event of the year in Indian Wells, Juan Martin del Potro denied the Swiss the opportunity to repeat as champion, fighting off three match points to take the title in a third-set tiebreak.
Perhaps more shocking than that, though, was Federer’s loss in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon to Kevin Anderson. Playing each other for the first time in nearly three years, Anderson saved one match point before prevailing in a 13-11 fifth set.
In 2017, Federer’s losses came to Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai, his first tournament after his surprise run to the Australian Open title, and in Stuttgart on grass against his good friend Tommy Haas.
Over the past two years, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray—Federer’s peers in the ATP’s Big 4—have only seen victory snatched away twice between them: this year in Acapulco, where Nick Kyrgios rallied against Nadal, and the 2018 Queen’s Club final in London, where Marin Cilic upset Djokovic for the title.
Federer just announced that he’ll be playing this upcoming week in Rome, surely ready to put those lost match points behind him.
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