Friday 24 November 2017

Magical Roger toys with 'Baby Fed' in masterclass

Federer: “I feel like I’m rested enough, and I’ve had not the toughest matches.” Photo: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
Federer: “I feel like I’m rested enough, and I’ve had not the toughest matches.” Photo: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

Jonathan Liew

There was a point early in this match - I forget which game exactly - when Roger Federer returned a serve from Grigor Dimitrov and it looped languidly, dreamily, over the net, hanging in the air for what seemed like an age.

Time to think. Time to breathe. And I wonder whether in those few seconds, as the ball is spinning, there comes a moment when you become acutely aware of who you are up against, who has just put the slice on the ball you are now trying to get back in play.

Of course, this could be any sliced backhand, by any player, on any court, in any tournament. But deep down, we all know it's not.

It's a Federer sliced backhand on Centre Court at Wimbledon and you can never quite forget that.

As it turned out, Dimitrov fluffed his backhand, and you could almost say he fluffed this match.

The promise of a thrilling, sun-drenched duel of delectable single-handed backhands and high drama never quite materialised, even if the No 13 seed belatedly tried to make a game of it in the third set.

It finished 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in 98 minutes - about the same length of time as a two-course meal. And after his elementary evening's work, Federer bore the look of a man still searching for dessert. Milos Raonic, his conqueror in last year's semi-final, awaits next.

Of course, they have been calling Dimitrov 'Baby Fed' for years now. He was a companion to the stars almost before he was a star in his own right, and a record of two semi-finals in 28 attempts suggests that his Slam-winning potential remains largely theoretical.

Which is why, in a way, this actually told us very little about Federer's chances of winning the whole thing.

Not only does the heavy-serving Raonic present an entirely different challenge, but this was a match broken open in one fell swoop, a crossword puzzle with a single clue. Once Federer had burgled the first set, Dimitrov was never the same player again.

"I feel like I'm rested enough, and I've not had the toughest matches," Federer said with his characteristic snark. "I'm not fighting anything, like my knee last year. I'm ready to go."

Federer toyed with Dimitrov like a puppy. Midway through the third set, he returned a serve with a perfect drop shot that bounced a foot over the net and simply stopped, like an obedient pet.

This is why people fork out £112 (€127) a pop. This is why people pitch their tents and go without showering. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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