Wimbledon 2014: Roger Federer almost flawless in race to third round

Wimbledon 2014: Roger Federer beats Gilles Muller in straight sets to book his place in the third round at SW19

roger federer
Roger Federer is through to round three at SW19 Photo: Marianne Bevis

The pre-match statistics about Roger Federer’s campaign to avoid his shock second-round exit of last year’s Wimbledon came up with a very upbeat finding.

They said that every time Federer had played today’s opponent, the 31-year-old Gilles Muller, the No4 seeded Swiss had gone on to win the title.

But it was a stat that needed to be taken with considerable caution. They had only played one another three times in their long professional careers—twice in 2005 and most recently in 2008, at the quarter-finals of the US Open.

But Muller, now ranked No103, arrived with only three main-tour match-wins to his name in 2014, although he had scored some useful wins on grass in Nottingham—and it was of course worth remembering that Sergiy Stakhovsky, who beat Federer in dramatic style last year, was ranked 116 at the time.

But when it comes to grass, and to Wimbledon, Federer has proved to have few equals. He has more titles and more match-wins on this surface than anyone in the Open era. He arrived full of confidence and in great shape from his seventh Halle title and had stormed through his opener this year in impressive, serve-and-volleying style.

Sure he is the father of nearly-five-year-old twin girls and almost two-month-old twin boys, but then he is also here with his new racket and coach Stefan Edberg for the first time. Perhaps, indeed, those would prove to be the more important stats—or perhaps better still, seeing his parents in the Royal Box.

It began as a strangely low-key affair after the excitement of Rafael Nadal’s comeback against his 2012 conqueror Lukas Rosol, and then another gutsy fight-back from Briton Heather Watson—especially as her efforts ultimately failed to take the match from the powerful No9 seed Angelique Kerber.

It began late, at the time when fans who had arrived mid morning were packing up to go home and fans with return tickets drifted in. The tennis started to an undercurrent of murmuring, of drinks being topped up, of comings and goings. The light was fading fast as heavy clouds drifted across—another dampener on the tennis.

Even so, the play was brisk: very brisk. Both men served fast, played short first-strike tennis, but Federer’s serving was near immaculate. It took just one wayward game from Muller, Federer pounced, broke and served out the set, 6-3 in around 23 minutes.

It was almost too fast to engage the crowd, and then the rain added a bit more distraction. Would they stop or not? They did, with the set 18 minutes old.

The crowd dispersed, then quickly reassembled, for even the delay was short, and the murmuring now had an echo under this translucent, glowing roof.

Federer, though, was in a real hurry, and his serving ensured there was not a moment for the crowd or Muller to catch breath. His opening game when they returned was four straight winning serves, closing with a 15th ace, his 29th point from 31 first deliveries. And he’d only dropped two points on his second serve, too. With an hour on the clock, it was time to break, and Federer’s backhand did the job: a chipped return, and cross-court pass and he broke, 7-5.

Again he opened with four big serves—one required a forehand finish, the rest were aces. The break came in the fourth game, as Muller buckled under a plethora of firey returns with a double fault.

Three more aces and it was 5-2, and the crowd demanded the same to serve it out—roaring him on. He obliged: three aces and a serve-and-volley winner and the match was done, 6-3, in an hour and 34 minutes.

One could only feel sorry for Muller, who made more winners than errors and hit 12 aces. But Federer’s performance was remarkable: five errors to 44 winners, and 25 aces to one double fault.

He clearly had no intention of making his exit too soon this year, but more than that, he threw down a gauntlet. This was a very fine performance—and he will need more of the same with Jerzy Janowicz—whose match against Lleyton Hewitt was suspended due rain—and, further on, his compatriot and No5 seed Stan Wawrinka lurking.

And Wawrinka, having won only one match in the past four years here, notched up his second this week by beating Yen-Hsun Lu 7-6 (6), 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. It took some hard work, but he too produced the goods, with 56 winners and 13 aces, and he is one win away from equalling his best result at The Championships.

Wawrinka will now face Denis Istomin but is lined up to meet No9 seed John Isner in the fourth round. The American won a marathon first set and went on to claim a 7-6(17), 7-6(3), 7-5 victory over Jarkko Nieminen, firing 32 aces. It took him to the third round here for the first time in six visits.

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