Slow start no problem for confident Federer

 - Simon Cambers

Five-time champion happy to avoid the rain in New York as he reaches third round with second four-set battle

Smiling Roger Federer after a second round match win at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Roger Federer has made tennis look pretty easy for much of his career but underneath the stylish exterior, there has always been a will to get the job done, in whatever manner required.

And so, while some might worry that losing the first set in each of his first two rounds might indicate his form is not where it might be, Federer is confident that when he needs it most, his game will come good.

Handshake between Roger Federer and Damir Dzumhur at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

"You can only do better"

On Tuesday, playing under the luxury of a closed roof over Arthur Ashe stadium as the first rain of the tournament fell outside, Federer was admittedly sloppy in the first set but worked his way past Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to book his place in the third round.

“I have been in that position many times where you go through a little phase where you don't start so well and everybody asks you right away, ‘what are you going to do?’” said Federer, who also took four sets to beat unheralded Indian Sumit Nagal in round one. “Just go back to the drawing board. Just do the same things again. You hope for a better outcome.

“When it happens like this in back-to-back matches, it's just a bit frustrating more than anything, especially when the level is that low and there is that many errors and the energy is not kind of there. But (you) can only do better, which is a great thing moving forward.”

A good hold of serve

Federer is so used to cruising through the first week of a grand slam – 11 of his 20 grand slam titles were won when he didn’t drop a set in the the opening week – that any slip-up is analysed in the minutest detail.

At 38, logic would suggest that the Swiss might struggle to win his first US Open title since 2008 if he doesn’t conserve energy early on but he seems fully fit, ready to go and hoping to lift the title for a sixth time and extend his overall grand slam record to 21.

Dzumhur, whose ranking has dropped from a career-high of 23 in July of last year to its current mark of 99, caused Federer plenty of problems, mostly with his speed, his wheels getting him around the court. The gifts coming from the other side helped, of course, but he deserved the first set.

A good hold of serve in the opening game of the second set, when he saved a break point, settled Federer and from the moment he got the break for 2-0, he was back in control, his serve beginning to crank into gear and his groundstrokes starting to find his range.

Reaction from Roger Federer during gis second round match at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

"100 percent ready to battle"

Dzumhur hung around enough to keep Federer honest but in the end the 20-times grand slam champion was good value for his win, a victory that sets up a third-round clash against either Lucas Pouille of France or Britain’s Dan Evans.

“I knew what Dzumhur was going to give me but I didn't expect to hit 15 to 20 unforced errors (in the first set), which is basically the entire set just sort of donated,” Federer said. “I clearly have to play better from the get-go.”

“The important thing is (are you) 100 percent ready to battle, are you in good shape, are you happy to be here? For me, also when it comes to slams, I prepare my game in a way that I peak here, and then you have to give yourself the best chances.

“At the end of the day all you can give is 100 percent and I have been doing that for many, many years now. If it falls into place, great. If it doesn't, well, you can always go back to the drawing board and figure out maybe what did you do wrong or was it just, you know, the kind of day that didn't go your way. That's it.”

One point away from winning a ninth Wimbledon title last month when he could not close out Novak Djokovic, Federer could play the world No 1 again in the semi-finals, just as he did in 2011 and 2012, when he also held two match points in each encounter. 

Roger Federer looking concerned durinh his second round match at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Missed opportunities

In the 11 years since he last won the title here, Federer has come close on a number of occasions, with some years, more than others, feeling like they were missed opportunities.

“‘09 obviously,” he said, referring to the 2009 final, when he lost to Juan Martin Del Potro in five sets, having led the Argentinian by two sets to one before losing in a decider. “I don't know which year I lost to (Marin) Cilic (2014). Things were looking OK there after Novak lost and (Kei) Nishikori was in the finals and I was in the semis against Cilic. Would have thought that maybe I had a good chance, but Marin came out and just crushed me.

“I think maybe those were my best chances. I don't know about the finals against Novak, and the rest I don't remember. There you have it.”

Roger Federer walking on the Arthur Ashe Stadium at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Back-to-back days

What might help Federer this year is that he is already through to the third round while many others in his half of the draw will have to play on back-to-back days, having been washed out on Wednesday.

“It helps me but doesn't help the other guys, I'm aware of that,” he said. “It's good for media or the TV, at least you've got something going on. For fans as well, who paid maybe high price for the ticket, they get to see some tennis. I think that's good. For us, the players, I mean, it's good for a few guys, and the rest it's not good.

“I think this roof is more important when it comes to semis and finals than a day like today, because they're going to fall behind, matches are going to get cancelled, and then other players have to back it up, back-to-back days.

“So it's going to be tough. Here I definitely profit from everything I guess I did in the game and my ranking to be put on Centre Court on a day like this.”