Sergio Mantegazza, a self-made Swiss billionaire ranked No 336 in a recent list of the world’s richest people, had his sleek 210-foot motor yacht - equipped with its own helicopter and launch pad – moored outside the harbour here today [Fri 25 March]. A few hundred metres away Roger Federer, a self-made Swiss millionaire ranked No 1 in a recent list of the world’s best tennis players, dropped anchor in the semi-finals of the Monte-Carlo Masters with one of his best performances of the year.
Federer has been far from his best in 2008 and although a bout of glandular fever has been at the root of his problems there have been suggestions that he might struggle to reconquer the game once his physical problems are completely behind him. Although he ended a run of four tournaments without a victory by claiming the title in Estoril last weekend, courtesy of Nikolay Davydenko’s retirement in the final, his performance in his first match here, when he was nearly beaten by Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, a qualifier, did not bode well for his chances.
Yesterday’s victory over Gael Monfils, however, was a significant improvement, while today’s quarter-final triumph over David Nalbandian suggested that the world No 1 is quickly finding his feet again on clay. Federer won 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 against an opponent who troubles him more than most, Nalbandian having won eight of their previous 16 meetings, including the last two.
There were no break points in the first 10 games as both players quickly found their stride, but Nalbandian broke in the 11th as Federer played two loose backhands. The world No 7 closed out the set in impressive fashion, creating his third set point with a fine backhand struck cross-court after a thrilling rally and then converting it with a clever wrong-footing volley.
Federer, however, immediately broke serve in the second set and was in command thereafter. From 2-2 in the final set he won four games in a row, securing victory after two hours and seven minutes with a majestic running forehand cross-court winner. The Swiss now plays Novak Djokovic, the winner to meet Rafael Nadal or Davydenko in Sunday’s final.
“Roger played at a really high level today,” Nalbandian said after the match. “I think it was one of his best matches on clay. It was very tough from the beginning until the end. I think we both played at a great level. I got a little tired in the second and third sets, but he played very well. Everything he did was good.”
Federer said: “I think the level of play was excellent today. We had some really tough games at the end of the first set. It was warm out there and the rallies were tough. I think I definitely played my best match of this tournament.
“Today it came together. I was especially happy with the way I moved because on clay that’s a big thing for me. I could have served maybe a little bit better here or there, but I think my statistics were very good.”
Asked how he could explain his rapid improvement in form this week, Federer said: “It’s a question of getting used to the conditions, having a few days of practice here, having a few matches under my belt. There have been many times in my career when I haven’t maybe played so well throughout the tournament, but then played some really good matches towards the end.
“It's normal, though being as close to defeat as I was here is unusual. But I played well coming back against Hidalgo and from them on I've played some really good tennis.”