Wimbledon 2018: Roger Federer heads into Week 2 – with big men Isner, Anderson and Monfils
Roger Federer is among the big names to reach the second week of Wimbledon
The tournament preview for the 132nd staging of the Wimbledon Championships is packed from start to finish by the name of Roger Federer.
He is, of course, the most prolific men’s singles champion here, eight titles.
He has won more grass titles than any other man, 18, and more grass-court matches, 174.
He has played in more Majors in the Open era than any other man, 73, and won more Major titles, 20.
He is playing in his 20th Wimbledon—another Open record—and has the most match-wins here, 93, and the most matches played, 104.
Add into the equation that last year, he became the oldest man in the Open era to win the Wimbledon title, and earlier this year became the oldest men’s No1, and it was perhaps no surprise that the tournament made him the No1 seed.
Now he was about to play his 105th match on Wimbledon’s turf, and his 200th grass match overall. And in a week that had seen half the 32 seeds in the men’s draw fail to make it to the third round, there was some comfort in that for the tournament.
In Federer’s half, No6 seed Grigor Dimitrov and No3 seed Marin Cilic had fallen, both men with grass credentials. The man who halted Federer’s 20-match winning run on grass in the Halle final, Borna Coric was out, along with the Swiss man’s first scheduled seed, No32 Leonardo Mayer.
Instead, after two swift matches, Federer would play Jan-Lennard Struff, a 6ft 5in German ranked 64, who had played the Swiss twice before. On the grass of Halle two years ago, he pressed the Swiss hard, 6-4, 7-6, and their recent clash at the Australian Open had also ended in straight sets but with a tie-break conclusion.
It so happened that Federer was recording an interview for ESPN just as Struff beat his second-round opponent, the giant serving machine Ivo Karlovic, 13-11 in the fifth set, and from two sets to love down. Struff had done exactly the same in his first match, playing three tie-breaks and pulling back to win in five sets.
Federer’s wry comment was: “He will be coming in nice and tired, hopefully!”
But he also recognised that Struff had “a great serve, takes big cuts at the ball, and also on the return.”
Even so, Federer—a regular 6ft 1in—may not have a booming serve but does have what is considered one of the best on the tour. In this match, he was the one to get the break early, and served out the set, 6-3, in 24 minutes.
The second set was much closer, and looked as though it was heading to a tie-break until Federer got the only break in the 11th game, and served it out 7-5.
In the third set, the Swiss reasserted his superiority, broke early again, and Struff double faulted to hand over another break 5-2. A love hold from the Swiss, and the match was done in an hour and a half, 6-2.
So yes, Struff was certainly the bigger man, and he hit 11 aces along with 26 winners. But Federer hit, 10 aces, 36 winners, and dropped only three points in 40 first serves. He did not face a break point in the match.
Even so, Federer admitted:
“Against big servers who go for a lot, it is always difficult to find rhythm and be sure you’re in the driving seat until the match is over… I was happy to stay calm and get the job done.”
But other big men have thrived in this quarter, indeed in this entire half. Gael Monfils, 6ft 4in, thumped 18 aces past 6ft 6in Sam Querrey, who hit 22 of his own, but does not have the athleticism and variety of the Frenchman when he is fully fit. Monfils, ranked 44 but a former top-10 player, put out the American No11 seed, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, to reach the second week here for the first time.
He will next play the 6ft 8in No8 seed and finalist at last year’s US Open, Kevin Anderson, who was impressive in beating Philipp Kohlschreiber in straight sets, also with 22 aces and a tally of 42 winners.
These are the players who lie in wait for Federer if the Swiss gets by the perhaps unexpected No22 seed Adrian Mannarino, who took five sets and a three and a quarter hours to beat the young 6ft 6in—and much less experienced—Daniil Medvedev.
Unexpected, because Mannarino, too, is a slender 6ft player with nimble footwork, touch and variety. He managed only eight aces among his 150 points won, but has been something of a revelation on a surface that yields positive feedback from his leftie, unpredictable style of play.
In Basel last October, on Federer’s home ground, he even took the first set in their quarter-final clash, though has lost all five matches they have played.
In the other quarter of this top half, another familiar big man, Milos Raonic, who beat Federer in the semis at Wimbledon in 2016 in five sets, is regarded as one of the biggest servers on the tour. That victory, however, was countered last year by a straight-sets win for Federer, who also went on to beat the Canadian in straight sets on the grass of Stuttgart last month.
Raonic, who has contended with many injury problems across several years, is still the No13 seed. However, his third-round match against qualifier Dennis Novak, also an unexpected match-up, was a set apiece as dusk settled on Friday evening. Raonic had already hit 24 aces, but he was far from finishing off the man who had already taken out No17 seed Lucas Pouille.
However, John Isner, the biggest and best server of them all, at 6ft 10in tall and top of the ATP statistics leader-board for serving, did make it through to the fourth round at Wimbledon for the first time after beating Radu Albot.
It is a surprising ‘first’ for the 33-year-old American, but then he also won his first Masters title in Miami in March, beating three top-six players in Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro and Alexander Zverev in the process. And he beat Federer in their last meeting in 2015.
But as is so often the case, the Swiss has more often beaten the big men than they have beaten him. It’s 5-2 in his favour against Isner—who he could meet in the semis here. It’s 4-0 over Anderson, 13-1 against Karlovic, and 11-3 over Raonic. And that covers the top five in the serving rankings—where Federer sits at No4. He has, incidentally, yet to be broken this week.
In fact, it is more often men with more strings to their bow than serving who get the better of Federer. And many of them are in the other half of the draw: Rafael Nadal, with a 23-15 advantage; Novak Djokovic, with a 23-22 advantage; del Potro, at five wins apiece since their titanic battle for medals at the 2012 Olympics.
Also in that half, the extravagant talents of Nick Kyrgios have pushed Federer to the limits—though the Aussie also happens to have a stunning serve. All three of their matches have gone to a final-set tie-break, with Kyrgios edging their Madrid meeting, 7-6(12) in the third.
Before all those, though, and in his own half—lurking for the quarter-finals—Federer will be only too aware of the danger that a fit, fast and furious Monfils can pose: They stand at four wins apiece since 2010, though have yet to meet on grass.
Until then, however, Federer may well sleep relatively easy in his bed, even if he is the last to count his chickens until they are hatched.
But bearing in mind that Federer’s 200th grass match here, yet another win at his favourite tournament on his favourite surface, comes 15 years to the day after he won his first title at Wimbledon, he remains one formidable prospect for the title—no matter what weaponry he faces.