Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Roger Federer faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals of the US Open, at the same stage as when the Frenchman prevailed at Wimbledon. Photograph: Andrew Gombert/EPA
Roger Federer reckons Jo-Wilfried Tsonga mugged him with rapid-fire tennis at Wimbledon this summer. Federer went out in the quarter-finals after winning the first two sets, a unique experience in a grand slam for the world No3, and he is desperate to avoid a recurrence of that nightmare when they meet at the same stage of the season's concluding slam in New York on Wednesday, biblical downpours permitting.
While Andy Murray waited in vain for the rain to stop so he could play the American Donald Young, Great Britain's Davis Cup team against Hungary in Glasgow this month was announced – and the Scot is there, alongside James Ward, Jamie Baker, Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins.
"Normally on grass, people used to serve and volley," Federer said, reflecting on his London trauma after going through to the quarter-finals of the US Open with an exquisite, quick win over Argentinian Juan Mónaco. "It was first serve, first hit. The point was over so many times on both ends. At the end he got the better of me."
Tsonga indeed got the late knockout – and few rematches in tennis have excited more anticipation than Federer-Tsonga II. It is their Thrilla in Manila, a shared high‑octane moment made for a tournament whose oxygen is raw drama.
Federer, just turned 30 and for so long the undisputed heavyweight king, the artist who stops his man eight times out of 10, hates losing as much as he resents being asked when he is going to win a 17th major. So his midnight demolition of the unseeded Mónaco in an hour and 22 minutes in the fourth round reminded everyone he is still a contender for this tournament.
Indeed, for pure quality of tennis, Federer is leading the pack, his forehand smooth, his backhand functional and his serving irresistible. He clearly hopes Tsonga was watching – especially the second game of the second set when he banged in four successive aces, among 42 winners. Mónaco had no answer and managed only four aces in the whole match.
Sam Querrey put 10 aces past James Blake over three consecutive service games in Indianapolis four years ago in a remarkable display – but this was impressive statement tennis, and it demoralised Mónaco. Whether Federer can sustain such excellence over the fortnight is the question.
Tsonga's confidence since Wimbledon is stratospheric, and the Frenchman earlier in the evening wrecked American hopes with a stirring five-set win over their best player and highest seed Mardy Fish. It is fair to say, had he not beaten Federer at Wimbledon, he might not have done so against Fish, who played to a high level until the end.
Federer, meanwhile, would like to park the Wimbledon defeat in the past. "Not much, really," he said when asked how much it hurt. "I thought we had a great match, which I unfortunately ended up losing. But I thought I was playing great tennis and shouldn't have … but look, he did well and came back.
"A couple shots here and there made the difference, particularly back at the break I got in the third set. I should never have been broken. For some crazy reason he gets the break there and the rest, as we know, is history.
"I didn't walk away too down. I was more frustrated for a little bit because I knew I was playing good enough to win the tournament. And there you are sitting not having a chance to walk out in a couple days. It's tough. It's never happened at a grand slam that I was up two sets to love and ended up losing."
Federer invariably spices his regrets with a pinch of generosity, and he observed of Tsonga's recent form: "He proved in Montreal how good he's playing right now. He's definitely on a good streak. I hope I can stop him this time."