Roger Federer walked down that alley a winner again on 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 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 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.
“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 had beaten Youzhny in both last year’s semifinal in Halle and the quarterfinal at Wimbledon, but it looked for a while on 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.
Youzhny 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.
“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.”