What Is It Like To Play Roger Federer?
Radu Albot walked off the court inside Hard Rock Stadium to a thunderous applause from thousands of fans. The Moldovan had just tested 100-time tour-level titlist Roger Federer in a two-hour, nine-minute three-setter in the pair’s first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting.
While the crowd — as was likely expected — was behind the Swiss, Albot certainly earned its respect.
“It was different, playing against a superstar. It’s different to play and to feel that everybody is cheering for him. It’s different to play with one of the best players of all-time, and to feel his shots and his capability to play against me, to feel it myself,” Albot said. “Of course I went on the court absolutely willing and sure that I could win that match.
“But the experience is pretty interesting. You play all your life and all the tournaments to be here and to compete against the best. When you finally have a chance to play against the best, I think it’s a good achievement and something I finally accomplished in my career.”
It was the first time Albot has faced an opponent inside the Top 5 of the ATP Rankings. He had never faced another former World No.1, either.
“I’ve never practised with him, and there were a couple of shots that I didn’t expect, or another player would play differently. But I have to say he handles the ball very well,” Albot said. “He can maneuver it like everywhere and create angles, create height, create sidespin. Now that I competed against him for more than two hours, I felt on my skin all he can do, in a way.”
There was never a moment in which Albot was overtaken by the occasion. He never looked across the net and let sink in the fact that he was playing Federer.
“There is nothing to process and to look at because on the other side is also a human. He has strengths and weaknesses and if you play the right way, you can win,” Albot said. “So there’s nothing to be afraid of, because if you’re afraid and you’re scared, that means you have no chance right away.”
Albot earned the first break opportunity in all three sets. And if one of those went differently, perhaps the 5’9” Moldovan would have sprung the upset. His performance caught Federer’s attention.
“I thought it was hard. I was impressed. I have a lot of respect for those types of players who don't have the size, have to find a different way to win,” Federer said. “He's a great, great player. I was impressed.”
Since Delray Beach champion Albot had never been in this position before, preparation for the match could have been different. But given the form he is in, cracking the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings for the first time ahead of this tournament, he also wanted to focus on his own game.
“You have to think about everybody’s gamestyle. Of course everybody knows that Roger’s serve and forehand is top-class. You have to be aware of those two shots and maybe to play a little bit more to the backhand, to cover that part of the court more. I focused on this a little bit,” Albot said. “I just tried not to change a lot because when you try to think of different things, it’s not worth it. You just have to keep your game and continue what you’re doing well and not suddenly change because it’s Roger.”
Albot is plenty motivated as it is. But this makes him even hungrier to put himself in position to play Federer or one of the other superstars of the sport to try to change the result.
“I would like to play against top guys. Now I had the chance to play against Roger and I’m not afraid to say I’d like to play against the top guys again,” Albot said. “That’s why you practise, that’s why you compete at the highest level, to be able to get in position in the earlier or later stages of the tournament, hopefully, to compete against them and hopefully it will happen more in the future.”
While Albot did not walk off the court with a victory, he left it with plenty of memories. And those in attendance will remember him, too.
“At that moment everybody was clapping, everybody was cheering for me while I was walking off the court, I stopped for a little bit and thanked everybody from every corner of the stands and I have to say that it was pretty loud,” Albot said. “The atmosphere was nice. I’ve never played with such a big stadium and to be almost full is something new for me. I really, really enjoyed it, even if I lost. Of course I would like to win, but walking off the court everyone was clapping and cheering for me, so this was very impressive and a good experience.”