How high are Roger Federer’s standards these days? So high that a straight-set victory without a single tiebreaker can be considered “tough.”
A thriller along the lines of last year’s Australian Open final against Rafael Nadal this was not. But it also wasn’t as routine as some of Federer’s frequent lightning-quick three-set beatdowns. During third-round action on Saturday night in Melbourne, the 36-year-old held off a game opponent in Richard Gasquet 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 after one hour and 59 minutes.
“It was tough,” Federer said. “The score shows it.”
This one really was. Despite the fact that it required only three sets, Gasquet gave an impressive account of himself against an opponent who was sporting a 16-2 lifetime record at his expense. Although he was a clear underdog, the Frenchman did not let that deter his effort. He struck 27 winners compared to a minuscule 16 unforced errors, a ratio likely good enough to beat most players in the field–but not Federer, who answered with 42 winners, 30 unforced errors, 12 aces, one double-fault, and 80 percent of his first-serve points won.
“I was hoping I could play at that level,” Federer said. “I’m very happy that I was able to rise to a level that I needed to beat Richard. I could have done it maybe a bit faster. At the same time I’m happy to have done it the way it happened. I was pleased; I was happy the way I played. I also thought Richard…we both played a good level again, so it was fun.”
“Faster” refers to Federer’s 3-0 lead in the third , which he temporarily gave away. Having not faced a single break point all night, Federer saw Gasquet break for the first time in the seventh game of the set to get back on serve at 3-4. The world No. 31 remained on level terms until he served while trying to stay in the match at 4-5. That’s when Federer raised his level one more time, breaking serve in a game that went to three deuces. He capitalized on his second match point with an exquisite backhand pass, aided by a net cord on the previous shot that forced Gasquet into vulnerable volley.
“I got so lucky,” the Swiss said during his on-court interview.
Lucky on one point, maybe. So far this fortnight, however, Federer has simply been too good.