Thunderbolt kid pushes top seed
Like a modern-day Thor, Ernests wielded his racquet like a turbo-powered hammer, thundering down lightning bolts of first serves past Roger Federer for most of their quarterfinal match in Doha.
Alas, his nerves were not as trusty a companion as the mythical Mjöllnir, having deserted him in the first set and – crucially – at the tail end of the deciding set.
Ernests showed his inexperience and ranking in the opening set, as he struggled to hold serve while the top-seeded Federer strolled to service hold after service hold in 90-second games.
However, Ernests struck like a provoked cobra in the second set, putting in a fearsome 78% of his first serves and returning aggressively, often while the ball was on the rise.
Federer, on the other hand, was reduced to retrieving Ernests’ serves from several feet beyond the baseline, and was out-maneuvered by a deliciously-placed topspin lob that caught the Swiss flat-footed at the net.
Ernests’ controlled aggression enabled him to capitalize on Federer’s mid-match dip in concentration, forcing set point on the top seed’s serve before Federer let fly a volley error to seal the second set for his younger opponent.
The Swiss appeared to recover his trademark unflappability in the third set, putting more pressure on Ernests’ serve until he was rewarded with a break in the third game.
However, Ernests was in no mood to wilt and battled back to reclaim the break and level at 3-all.
Two games later, the prospect of him taking out the world No. 1 suddenly was no longer hypothetical, but a very realistic possibility.
With the score at 4-all, he only needed to hold serve to be within one game of victory.
It was as if the enormity of the occasion suddenly dawned upon him as he stepped up to the service line, and his resolve wavered – only by a micro-degree, but it was enough of an opportunity for somebody of Federer’s calibre.
It took only one careless forehand from Ernests to hand Federer the break, and the top seed wasted little time in serving his victory out, quelling Ernests’ defiant challenge in the face of match point with an ace.
Despite the loss, the match helped to showcase the improvements that Ernests is bringing to the table for the new season. Ball-bashing is still the key feature of his game – indeed, one wonders if he even would be Ernests without it – but he has learnt to demonstrate a tad more restraint and control. He still showed some dubious clarity of thought when choosing to execute a drop shot, but at least he thought, and no longer resorted to his favourite party trick as frequently as he did in the past.
With relatively few ranking points to defend this season, all indicators suggest that there is no way for Ernests to go but up. However, progress must not be taken for granted, and Ernests must be careful to keep learning and not remain stagnant, while the rest of the pack advance in leaps and bounds.