US Open 2018: Roger Federer keeps records alive with Paire win; sets tough Kyrgios rematch
Roger Federer is through to the last 32 of the US Open after beating Benoit Paire in three sets
The facts and figures about one of its most famous sons, Roger Federer, have come thick and fast at this 50th playing of the US Open.
The mighty Swiss is the only player in the Open era to win five singles titles in a row at the tournament, and one more would take him ahead of Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors in overall titles.
Now playing in his 18th US Open, it has been a decade since that remarkable run peaked in 2008—and although the Swiss went on to reach two more finals and three further semi-finals, he made no secret of his wish to get one more.
After all, he had gone almost five years without adding to his record 17 Majors, and then bounced back from knee surgery, plying a new racket and newly-tooled backhand to win in both Australia and Wimbledon. He would bypass the clay swing—a nod to the passing years and aging body—but was there any reason why the rejuvenated Swiss could not also add to his New York resume?
That seemed to be his mind-set when it came to the No1 ranking earlier this year, too. Why not have a stab at that top spot more than five years after his last residency? He won Rotterdam after his 20th Major in Australia, and thus became the oldest No1.
That took him to 97 titles, and the Stuttgart title made it 98. He admitted that, yes, 100 would be nice. And he looked on course to do that sooner rather than later, but then failed to defend either his Halle or Wimbledon titles, did not attempt to defend Toronto, and lost his Cincinnati crown despite reaching the final.
Along the way, Federer turned 37, and his concentration and movement seemed to have lost just a little of their edge compared with the man who opened 2018 with a 17-match winning streak. Now rest and recuperation were essential components as he prepared to take his place as the oldest man in the US Open draw.
His opener eased him in nicely, the young 177-ranked Japanese player, Yoshihito Nishioka, who the Swiss beat, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. But the tests were about to get much harder, not least in his second-round opponent Benoit Paire, the kind of unorthodox player who can turn on the flair and power to great effect—as he did in Halle, where he gave Federer an almighty scare in the second round, failed to convert two match points, and eventually lost a final-set tie-break.
So could the Swiss maintain his unbeaten record over unseeded men here, and his unbeaten record in Round-2 matches?
It began well for Federer, as he played a long, patient rally to convert a break chance in the fifth game, and resisted a break-back point from an attacking Paire to hold, 4-2.
The Frenchman was not about to back off, though, and Federer offered up enough errors to allow Paire back in with a break and then a hold, 5-4. The Swiss remained under pressure, but he chased down a drop shot to hold, broke with the help of a forehand winner, and held to love for the set, 7-5.
The second set opened with love holds for both, but Paire gave away an early break, courtesy of a double fault, in the fifth game. Again, though, Federer offered up the chance to return the favour—a break point and a double fault—but eventually held for 4-2. He should have broken again in the eighth, as Paire twice double faulted and faced two break points. Federer failed to convert another chance in the ninth, despite winning a superb 26-shot rally to earn break point. He would have to serve it out, and did: 6-4.
The third set became an unpredictable melee of errors, chances missed, tumbles by Paire, and unusually wayward serving by Federer. Double faults proliferated, with three from Paire handing over a break in the third game. Federer broke again for 4-1 and appeared to be cruising, but the Frenchman’s fast-strike returning disrupted the Swiss serve, who double faulted twice, missed all his first serves, and handed back one break.
Right to the final game, errors mixed it up with some cracking winners on both sides, as both players serving well below 50 percent. But after almost two hours, and a fifth double fault from Federer, the former champion served out the win, 6-4.
The statistics did not make for pretty reading on either side: an evenly divided 50 winners between them, but 39 errors to Federer, 47 to Paire.
It was enough for the Swiss man’s purposes—an 18-0 record in Round 2 matches in New York, and the No2 ranking come September, which had been up for grabs by Juan Martin del Potro or Alexander Zverev should Federer fall short of Round 3.
Meanwhile, however, Kyrgios had beaten another Frenchman, Pierre-Hughes Herbert, from a set and 0-3 down, to win 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-3, 6-0, and that ensured the latest in a string of compelling, high-octane contests against a man 14 years his senior.
Eight of their previous nine sets have gone to tie-breaks, with Kyrgios coming out the winner in the first of their three matches in Madrid.
Federer pulled no punches about the nature of the contest, their first in the best-of-five format:
“We’ve had some brutal matches over the years, always super tight… It’s a big challenge, he’s got one of the best serves in the game—he’s super talented.”
Whoever wins, however, knows already that they will face an unseeded man in the fourth round. No14 seed Fabio Fognini lost to John Millman, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, who will play Mikhail Kukushkin. The Kazakh beat No23 seed Hyeon Chung, 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-3.
In the Novak Djokovic eighth, Joao Sousa beat No12 seed Pablo Carreno Busta, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 2-0(ret), to set a meeting with No17 seed Lucas Pouille, victor in four sets over Marcos Baghdatis.
In the other quarter of the bottom half of the draw, No4 seed Zverev reached the third round in New York for the first time with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over lucky loser Nicolas Mahut, 15 years his elder. The 21-year old star will next play fellow German Philipp Kohlschreiber, who beat an exhausted Matthew Ebden, who had needed 3hrs 40mins to beat No32 seed Filip Krajinovic, in the first round.
And the tournament, and tennis, bid farewell to Julien Benneteau, who retires this season, after his second-round loss to Jan-Lennard Struff, in five sets. The big German will take on No10 seed David Goffin, who beat Robin Haase, 6-2, 6-7(1), 6-3, 6-2.