Big-hitter Groth forces Federer to break sweat
Losing a set to someone capable of serving at 147 miles an hour will not spread panic in Roger Federer's Wimbledon household, but then the coolest player ever to come down from the Swiss mountains has never been one for over-reacting. Nonetheless, the second seed did have to sweat a little on Centre Court yesterday to get by Sam Groth 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2 in two and a quarter hours and book a fourth-round match against Roberto Bautista Agut tomorrow.
The 27-year-old Spaniard with the sharp grass-court game took a mere 95 minutes to beat the Georgian qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili 7-6 (7-4), 6-0, 6-1 on Court 12. If Federer beats Bautista Agut, the 20th seed, the prospect of a semi-final towards against Andy Murray, who beat Andreas Seppi last night, will begin to occupy his thoughts. As of now, he has negotiated the first three rounds comfortably, regrouping quickly against Groth after the Australian lifted his game to win the third-set tie-break.
Groth at times played well above his world ranking of 69, bringing touch and craft to his work at the net in some fascinating exchanges with an opponent who has won 17 grand slam titles. At other moments, however, he looked one-dimensional, and Federer devours players he can read easily. Once Federer had come to terms with the power of Groth's monstrous serve, the task of fashioning a win became that much easier.
As he explained later about adjusting his game against someone capable of pinning him to the backboard: "The only thing I really have to change is my returning. The rest, the service games, I can control them myself. Once the return is played, then it's about reaction, especially when he's serve-volleying. You get to the next one, hit a pass. I think it's about keeping a short backswing on the return, trying to see it. And then also some times guessing the right way at the right times, remembering patterns where he's gone to, where he's been successful, and where not."
He makes it look so easy - and he often makes it look so simple, too. But there were those anxious moments towards the end of a tough, competitive third set that might inspire prospective opponents here to wonder if they, too, can unsettle the serenity of his elegant tennis.
Bautista Agut is a solid rather than explosive presence on court and will make things as difficult for Federer as his accomplished game allows. Once Bautista Agut had negotiated the tie-break in the first set against Basilashvili he coasted home, bagelling him in the second then closing it out in style.
Federer, of course, will present him with a challenge at the polar opposite of the tennis universe. He spoke of his late-career growth, dwelling on his partnership with Stefan Edberg, a player he admired when young and now employs as his coach."I don't want to say I'm less nervous, but I'm more comfortable around Stefan," Federer said. "When you spend time with someone you've looked up to your entire life, it's a bit awkward in the beginning. You're not quite sure what you're allowed to ask, what you're allowed to say. Those fears are somewhat gone, even though every time he steps into the house, I'm like I can't believe it quite still, so it's very cool.
"He hasn't been to many tournaments for so many years. I had to show him around a little bit. It's actually been quite fun showing him again how it's done. And for him it's important to be comfortable in the team, getting to know everyone, my wife, my physio, my agent. It's been good fun. Now it's just very straightforward. We know when to speak about it, when not. Maybe he tries to say a little more than he should, and I request more than I should. Now he knows exactly when to say what, which is comfortable."
Sunday Indo Sport