Roger Federer and Mischa Zverev meet for third time this season with a spot in Wimbledon’s fourth round as the prize. Federer has won the two previous encounters in straight sets. The last came in Halle on grass where the Swiss won 7-6 (4), 6-4.
(3) Roger Federer vs (27) Mischa Zverev
Federer got a full match in the second round against Dusan Lajovic after his first round match against Alexandr Dolgopolov was cut short due to injury. Federe was broken in his opening service game in the 1st set, but then found his way back for a 7-6 (0), 6-3, 6-2 win. Fed was solid on serve, taking 81 percent of the points off his first and second serves. He was not broken after that initial break of the match. He saved the next three break chances against him. His ground game was decent with 31 winners to 15 unforced errors. He would break Lajovic four times on eleven chances. After the match, Federer admitted to feeling anxious prior to the match for some reason, but once his nerves settled, it was curtains for Lajovic.
Zverev looked as if he would cruise into round three after blasting Mikhail Kukushkin off the court in the first two sets in round two. Kukushikin would mount a rally however that forced the 27th seeded German to rally for a five set win 6-1, 6-2, 2-6, 3-6, 6-4. Zverev’s second serve was leaky in the Kukushkin match, winning just 37 percent of the points played. His first serve was not consistent as he won 69 percent of the points overall. It will be a bit concerning to Mischa that his first serve fell off significantly after the first two sets where he was winning 80 percent of the points. Even in the final set, he would win just 62 percent of the points off his first serve. He would combat those difficulties by executing his serve and volley game plan well, racking up 58 winners to just 24 unforced errors.
Halle Signaled Mischa’s Best Against Federer
The close straight sets loss to Federer last month in Halle marked Zverev’s best effort against the Swiss. It was a stark contract to the 6-1, 7-5, 6-2 whipping at the Australian Open in January. It was also a massive improvement from the double bagel beat down Federer delivered the last time the met on grass in Halle in 2013. What’s different? Certainly Zverev is a more consistent player than four years ago when they met on grass and certainly grass allows his serve and volley style better success than the hard courts in Melbourne.
The biggest difference last month over previous encounters was better serving from Mischa. The German was broken just once on four chances, winning 75 percent off his first serve and 55 percent off his second serve. That was a big uptick in form from Melbourne when he won just 53 percent of his first serve points and 52 percent off his second serve. Zverev was broken six times on 15 chances in that meeting. Don’t forget the most important aspect of the serve and volley is being able to serve at a high level to set yourself up for your volley game.
Having just played, it will be interesting to see any tweaks these two make for each other on Saturday. Federer talked about the differences between Melbourne and Halle in how Zverev returned his serves. He said Mischa took a deeper stance on grass, something he was not expecting. As such, he’s not quite certain if Zverev will keep with that on Saturday or switch it up a bit. Fed said the main thing going into this match is getting used to hitting against a lefty on a short turn-around. As such, he’ll be warming up against lefties and then working on-the-fly to adjust to the varying serves and angles the lefty can bring from his serves.
For Federer, the big thing on grass is always his serve. When he’s in the zone, his serve is almost impossible to return and he gets a ton of cheap points. Watching their Halle encounter, I noticed that when Fed was hitting his spots out wide or up-the-T, Zverev was almost always out of position if he was able to make a return. That left Federer the chance to move in and finish off the point quickly. Off the ground, Federer did his share of serve and volley work in Halle against Mischa, but he also didn’t mind doing a little baseline grinding. When he did, the key to him winning points was hitting with authority off the forehand and backhand sides.
I think a huge key for Federer is being decisive in hitting the ball off return and off the ground. He has to remain proactive and not reactive. He can’t try to anticipate where Zverev will go when he gets to net. The Swiss has to choose his shoot and hit it with power. If Zverev gets his racquet on the ball and nails a volley for a winner, so be it. I think variety is a good thing for Federer when Zverev attacks the net. Don’t always try to extend him out wide and don’t always go right at him. Switch it up and leave him guessing.
As for Zverev, the serve must be better than it was against Kukushkin. In Halle, Zverev had success with his variety and he’s got to be able to hit with precision again on Saturday. Much like Federer, when Mischa extends his opponent with precise serving – it keys his volley game at the net and results in winners more often than not. Zverev said he came in against Kukuskin almost every time and there were not very many moments in Halle when he didn’t come in against Federer on his serve. Unless his legs are still feeling it from the five set match last round, don’t expect Mischa to stray from the serve and volley. Also, look for him to go at Federer’s backhand which has been a bit iffy early on this week.
The Pig’s Bottom Line
It’s difficult to see the upset potential here given that Zverev is 0-9 in sets played against Federer in their careers. Admittedly, Halle signaled that he can stay with Federer better in sets on grass at this stage and that does mean something. It will only mean something though if Federer is struggling. If Zverev can serve at a high level, it means he’ll have the chance to finish off those volleys at the net for easy points. The problem is that was an up and down proposition last round.
I’m not overly concerned about Zverev’s ability to recover from that five set match as it barely ran over three hours due to his tactics. He should be just fine from a fitness standpoint. That means it comes down to execution. I think the sets will be tight and perhaps Zverev can break the streak and steal one, but most signs point to Federer getting this done in straight sets.
Prediction: Federer wins in straight sets