Mister Roger Federer is usually coolness personified, but that certainly wasn’t the case on this one night in Shanghai.
Playing a tightly contested, emotionally draining Masters quarterfinal against the up-and-coming Alexander Zverev, Federer showed some frustration just as it was all coming apart.
After saving five match points in the second set and then going on to force a deciding third, Zverev took a commanding 3-0 lead in the decider to push arguably the greatest player of all time to let off some steam. Falling behind 15-30 on his own serve after a missed backhand volley, Federer calmly sent a ball into the stands.
After the ball reached its destination, chair umpire Nacho Forcadell called a code violation for violent conduct — Federer’s second of the match since he had already sent another ball into the stands earlier — which cost the 38-year-old an additional point and handed Zverev two break point opportunities.
Sensing some injustice, Federer immediately made his way over to Forcadell to question the decision.
“How did I hit the ball? With the frame. Was it in anger, for you?” Federer said. To which Forcadell responded, “Maybe it was not with full power ... but it was out of the court.”
Federer then angrily responded with, “I’ll show you what full is.”
The chair umpire then explained that it was not so much about where the ball ultimately landed, but the action itself. Federer argued he should have been made aware after his first violation that there was no margin for error, but to no avail. He never recovered and lost 3-6, 7-6(7), 3-6.
Yes and no. By the rulebook, a ball being sent into the crowd is considered a violation as it’s a measure to protect fans in the stands. If the rules are being enforced to the absolute letter of the law, as it seemed to be when Federer picked up his first violation, then sure, it was the right call. One could even argue that had he not made the call, another can of worms would have been opened with Zverev possibly questioning why there was no penalty.
But, chair umpires exist for a reason. They’re human, they’re supposed to be understanding of the tone and tenor of matches and the players involved. There is clearly no malicious intent in Federer’s actions, just some frustration over an important match slipping away.
Considering all that he did to fight back after losing the first set and saving five match points in the second, Forcadell should have been able to recognize what was happening and let it go. Oh, perhaps cutting the 20-time Grand Slam winner a bit of slack would have been within his rights, too.
If there is anything to blame Federer for, it’s perhaps not knowing Forcadell’s tendencies before the match. It certainly appears the umpire is the strict type and follows the rules to a T, ironically penalizing Zverev earlier this year at the Madrid Open for taking too long to serve. The German was so angry about the decision he even called the match supervisor onto the court, but as in Federer’s case, there was no changing the decision.
No talking mood
Federer clearly had no intention of discussing the incident after the match, abruptly dismissing a question from a reporter about why he was unhappy with the umpire’s decision during the post-match press conference.
“So you can write on Twitter, you mean?” Federer said. “It would be nice [for you] to write something nice once also about the game... Next question.”
I missed quite a Federer-Zverev match in Shanghai, huh.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) October 11, 2019
And after, too. I've never seen Federer snap at a [100% expectable and reasonable] question like this, that I can remember. pic.twitter.com/d6yplK1e8U
This could have been more a case of Federer not wanting the spotlight to be on a point penalty rather than the great match and thoroughly deserving win for Zverev. Still, considering the usual grace and composure with which the Swiss conducts himself, it was a bit strange to see him so on edge after a match.
More tennis coverage from Yahoo Sports