Saturday, July 08, 2017

Roger Federer sets up clash with Grigor Dimitrov as he flies into 4th round at Wimbledon

“Tremendous news!” older brother Mischa tells younger sibling Sascha. “Not only are we the first brothers to be seeded at Wimbledon since Sandy and Gene Mayer 35 years ago, but now we’re the first brothers to reach the third round there since Tim and Tom Gullikson in 1984! And if we get through, we’ll be the first brothers in the last 16 of any Slam since Javier and Emilio Sanchez at the US Open in 1991!”

“Great!” replies Sascha. “My third round opponent is Sebastian Ofner, ranked 217 in the world!"

“Great!” says Mischa. “And mine is… Roger Federer.”

Oh well. You can’t win them all, and Mischa Zverev – who ended world No.1 Andy Murray’s challenge at the Australian Open this year – did not win his third round match against the seven-times champion. But the No.27 seed fulfilled the promise he made beforehand to bring an “all or nothing” approach to this encounter, and the Centre Court crowd loved him for it.

Usefully, his favourite shots are serve and volley, which proved particularly handy in the hugely entertaining first set here where – for the second time in a matter of weeks on grass – he pushed Federer into a tie-break. But in that, as in the rest of this match, the Swiss prevailed.

He won through to the fourth round for the 14th time in the last 15 years, taking it 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 48 minutes, and has an appointment with Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the last eight.

Afterwards, a buoyant Federer enjoyed a light-hearted press conference, in which he paid touching tribute to his wife of eight years, Mirka, whom he met when they were both competing for Switzerland at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

“Without her I couldn't do it,” Federer declared. “If she said ‘I don't want to travel no more’, I'll say, ‘Okay, my career is over’. It's as simple as that. So she's the key to a lot of this.

“But she's happy to be doing it – not on a weekly basis just because the traveling gets too much with the four children, so I went to Stuttgart and Halle on my own. Now here we're together. We're having a great time. I'm happy she allows me to chase our dreams, because she's in it as much as I am. She’s been an amazing support to me. She’s the best.”

These two had met four times previously with much the same outcome, including a particularly grim memory for Zverev on domestic turf four years ago when he fell victim to the dreaded “double bagel”.

It looked bad early on here, when a Federer return winner brought up break point, and then the German opted to allow a forehand to go past him, only to see it drop in.

That was 1-3, and after a brisk Federer hold, the great man was already receding into the middle distance.

Yet Zverev was now not only serving better but getting into his return groove, flummoxing Federer sufficiently that the Swiss serve was punctured for just the second time this week.

With an appetite for baseline skills and net tussles alike, the German even had a further break point for 6-5, which Federer grabbed back with a thoroughly cross-looking serve, barking encouragement at himself before taking charge of the tie-break.

It is thought that the most famous father-of-four in tennis is currently the recipient of an unlovely gift commonly given by small children to their parents – a cold, which first made itself felt around midweek.

So he is a touch under the weather, but nothing too catastrophic. Certainly he took command of the second set convincingly, breaking for 2-1, and while Zverev stayed with him, this time there was no sense of genuine threat.

Nonetheless, the 29-year-old left-hander was relishing the big stage, as you might expect of a player who has endured assorted back, knee, rib and wrist injuries which relegated him as low as No.1,067 in the rankings a little over two years ago.

Alas, the ATP were unable to supply precise figures on how many times Federer and Zverev had each played on Centre Court before this – “We just don’t keep that information” – but this reporter is prepared to take a crazy risk and declare that possibly the Swiss had the narrow advantage in terms of Centre Court experience.

This was just the second Wimbledon main draw Zverev had played since 2009, and it was unfortunate that he came up against this opponent when bidding for his 100th Tour win. Federer was doing his Federer thing – winning with class – but the two of them ensured the entertainment ran riot. In the third set Federer hit a baseline ‘hotdog’, of the kind he has converted into a winner more than once – but Zverev despatched it safely at the net.

Federer’s ultimate winner-to-error count in what became his 86th Wimbledon match win looks like a ridiculous misprint – 61 winners to a miserly seven errors. But as evening fell at the end of another gorgeous day at Wimbledon, the Centre Court crowd shouted their appreciation, and a great deal of that was directed squarely at Mischa Zverev.

It's nail biting time, for the first time this tournament. This will be the true test for Roger if he can get through this match. I believe he will be in the final. 

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