Tennis bits: Roger Federer passes ‘fitness and mental test’ to reclaim clay in Istanbul

Roger Federer won his 85th title on Sunday in Istanbul and said he was relieved at his first clay title since 2012: 'It's been a while since I won a title on clay'.

Roger Federer reacts during his win over Pablo Cuevas in the ATP Istanbul final on Sunday. Tolga Bozoglu / EPA / May 3, 2015
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ATP Istanbul

Roger Federer defeated Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay to clinch the Istanbul Open on Sunday for his 85th career crown and first title on red clay for over a half a decade.

The Swiss world No 2 and 17-time grand slam winner showed imperious form ahead of the French Open, beating world No 23 Cuevas after a thrilling second set tie break.

Top seed Federer showed dexterity and power despite resolute defence from his opponent, who required two injury timeouts for treatment on his wrist, to win through 6-3, 7-6 (13/11) in 1 hour 36 minutes.

“It’s been a while since I won a title on clay,” said a delighted Federer. “It’s been a pleasure playing here.”

“I picked up confidence and I picked up another title. I feel really good about my game now. It’s been a fitness test and a mental test.”

The title was Federer’s first on all kinds of clay since his victory on the blue clay of Madrid in 2012 and his first on the traditional red clay since his sole French Open win in 2009.

Federer has been given celebrity status in Istanbul over the last week on his first ever appearance in the country with banners around the court reading “Welcome to Turkey, King” and the crowd chanting his name.

In the first set, Federer raced to a 4-1 lead in just 20 minutes, adapting better to the slow conditions on the court after a heavy afternoon shower before the match.

He also showed none of the weakness on this first serve that had plagued his game earlier in the week, with an overall first serve percentage of 70 per cent and firing down seven aces.

With Federer serving for the first set, Cuevas let out a howl of frustration as he missed the baseline yet again.

Cuevas’s problems mounted in the second set when he called two injury timeouts for treatment from the trainer on his wrist.

Federer, on top of his game and thrilling the crowd, broke Cuevas in the seventh game with a well taken forehand volley.

But Cuevas shrugged off the injury and began to play potently from the baseline, seizing his chance to break back immediately and level at 4-4 and saved three break points on his own serve with some superb baseline play.

The second set went to a tie break with the pair beginning to exchange thrilling rallies.

Federer then took his mini-break when Cuevas badly mishit a forehand but the Uruguayan levelled with attacking play of his own.

Showing the tension, Cuevas double faulted but Federer missed a chance on match point when he pushed a possible backhand winner into the tramlines.

Cuevas then himself missed an easy forehand volley on set point and Federer saved another set point with an outstanding backhand return winner.

But with Federer now playing some brilliant attacking tennis, he finally converted a match point to win the tie-break 13/11.

The tie-break was a fitting conclusion to Turkey’s first ever ATP World Tour tournament and Federer expressed satisfaction that the match had such a dramatic conclusion.

“The tie break was crazy,” he told reporters.

“There was a good atmosphere and winning 6-3, 6-3 would not have been the same thrill. It was tough and Pablo played really well. I tried to stay aggressive.”

Federer said his recovery would now be important after the series of testing matches in Istanbul as “you don’t want to roll into the French Open tired”.

He said he would take some days off ahead of the upcoming Madrid Open and would then decide whether to play in Rome the subsequent week.

Cuevas admitted he had struggled to adapt to the slow conditions, with the balls “not as fast as I wanted them to be.”

“It is difficult to face Roger and not get distracted from the game,” he said.

ATP Estoril

Richard Gasquet defeated Nick Kyrgios 6-3, 6-2 to win the Estoril Open on Sunday, ending the Australian’s hopes of a first tour title.

But Kyrgios was pleased at his achievement of competing in his first ATP final after stalling at the quarter-final stage previously on the tour.

“Playing in my first final, there was definitely a bit of pressure out there,” said the 46th-ranked Aussie, who remains in the running for a possible seeding at the French Open later this month.

“I had fun out there today as well. I lost, but that’s why he’s a world-class player. He was way too good for me and I need to get better.

“My serve was getting me through matches all week and today I don’t feel I served well. I was pleased with the way I was hitting the ball, but I didn’t take my opportunities.”

Gasquet, a former top 10 player now ranked 28th after suffering a series of back injury problems, lost the finals at the Portuguese venue in 2007 and 2012.

“I am really happy with the victory,” said Gasquet. “Yesterday it went three sets and today I was more confident and started better. To feel no pain it’s a good thing for me.

“I needed to play a good clay-court match, to make him run. He’s a very good player, very powerful with a big forehand and big serve.

“It was a tough match and Nick put up a fight, he’s a very dangerous part of the future of the sport.

“My fitness improved all week and I served better in each match,”

The Frenchman made up for past disappointments as he defeated the seventh seed in 63 minutes, never facing a break point until he saved three to take a lead of a set and 5-1.

The fifth-seeded Frenchman claimed his first trophy on clay since Nice in 2010 on the first of three match points.

The winner of three career ATP clay honours had lost two previous Portuguese finals – in 2007 (Novak Djokovic) and 2012 (Juan Martin del Potro).

Estoril was his first event in six weeks after quitting his opening match at Indian Wells in mid-March as a disc problem from 2014 returned.

The win marked Gasquet’s 12th career title and he also avenged his loss to Kyrgios last year at Wimbledon when the Australian saved nine match points in their second round tie.

Kyrgios had been bidding to become the first Australian in nearly two decades to claim an ATP trophy on clay.

The last to achieve the feat was Richard Fromberg in Bucharest in 1997.

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