Safin-Federer a Tale of Two Matches

There were two tennis matches played late Friday night in Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, and I’m not including Jelena Dokic’s three-set thriller over Caroline Wozniaki.

The marquee match, the rematch, whatever you want to call it, between former world number one Roger Federer and former world number one Marat Safin was both matches: the awful first two sets and the remarkable third one. In the first set, Federer played sloppy-but-consistent while Safin was erratic on nearly ever other point, missing wildly on his serve, backhand, and especially forehand. But the third set was a different breed: a showcase of two of the most talented players of all time playing the type of tennis that at one point rose both to the top.

And if we really want to know all that Friday’s match was about, we need to ignore the first two sets.

Federer jumped out to a quick, devastating two set lead, converting three of his four break chance opportunities and only twice falling behind 15-30 or worse on his serve. Safin never had a break point.

He closed out the first set with a break at love followed by hold at love. He was nearly as dominant in the second set, breaking Safin in Safin’s last two service games.

Those two sets took merely 59 minutes.

And then Safin turned it on.