HALLE, Germany — If there is one place for Roger Federer to end a title drought, then it’s Halle, a small town in western Germany that has a big tennis stadium and a Roger-Federer-Allee leading to it.
Federer walked down that alley a winner again Sunday, ending a 10-month run of 11 tournaments without a title, an eternity by his standards.
The 31-year-old Swiss overcame a sluggish start to beat unseeded Mikhail Youzhny 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 at the Gerry Weber Open for his first title since Cincinnati in August.
Returning to grass in his favourite warm-up for Wimbledon, it took the top-seeded Federer until the middle of the second set to come out of his lethargy and start hitting shots with confidence against a player he had never lost to in 14 previous career matches. It was the first final on the tour this year involving players 30 or older.
“I’ve won a lot but not so much in the last 10 months, although I feel I’d been playing well,” Federer said. “But the others were playing better.”
Federer earned his sixth title in Halle in 11 appearances (eight finals) and his first since 2008. Four of Federer’s seven Wimbledon titles have come after triumphs in Halle — including his first Halle and Wimbledon championships in 2003.
The former top-ranked player, who is now No. 3, won his 77th career title, pulling him even with John McEnroe at third on the all-time list. Jimmy Connors won 109 and Ivan Lendl 94.
Federer will be looking to add to his record 17 Grand Slam championships when he defends his title at Wimbledon.
“I feel fit, I feel confident, I’m excited about what’s to come,” Federer said. “I’m very pleased with how I played this week.”
Federer had beaten Youzhny in both last year’s semifinal in Halle and the quarterfinal at Wimbledon, but it looked for a while Sunday that the Russian could have discovered a key to finally beating Federer, although he had to fend off four break points in the first game of his first career final on grass.
“He was playing well enough to win,” Federer said.
Youzhny, 30, saved another break point in the 11th game, but he had the Swiss on the defensive and Federer saved a set point in the next game before holding to go into the tiebreaker. An error by Federer gave Youzhny a set point and the Russian put away a volley winner to go ahead.
Federer finally started finding his range and went up when Youzhny double-faulted at break point in the eighth game, which proved to be the turning point of the match.
The Swiss hit a perfect backhand passing shot to go up 4-3 in the third, held for 5-3 with a smash and fired a service winner to seal his victory after two hours and two minutes.
Federer has a big following at the Halle tournament and the fans gave him a standing ovation, while his wife Mirka let out a sigh of relief while keeping an eye on their twin daughters.
“The difference was that he was better today — he’s been better all his life,” Youzhny said, referring to his lifetime losing streak against Federer.
Federer, who finished with 12 aces, said his serve had kept him in the match.
“The first set was very close, it could have gone either way. I had to fight very hard to stay in the second, my serve saved me today,” Federer said. “At the end I was just a bit steadier.”