Fatherhood must be giving Roger Federer the opportunity to master multi-tasking. Tonight, he showed an eye for openings, an ear for the audience, and a feel for the ball.
In a 62-minute star turn, Federer displaced Gilles Simon with his drop shot, deconstructed him with his forehand, and dazzled the Foro Italico faithful with a 6-1, 6-2 sweep so commanding that it left the Frenchman smiling and some fans chanting.
Pushing his opponent wide with a slice serve, Federer slammed a forehand winner to hold at 15 for a 2-1 lead. That sparked a surge in which a relaxed Federer made life miserable for Simon and mesmerizing for fans, running off seven consecutive games. Knowing the Frenchman hits flat, Federer tormented him with the dropper, forcing Simon into lifting stretched responses from awkward positions. He even humbled him with a drop-shot return winner off a second serve. That's when you know you're in for a long night.
These two had split four prior meetings—all on hard courts—but Federer was in no mood for drama. The Swiss looked like he was playing a point he had already choreographed in his mind, while Simon slid and skidded around the baseline, trying to keep up in the routine but hopelessly out of step to the music.
Simon netted three straight shots to donate a love break as Federer took a 3-1 lead. He backed up the break with a forehand drop shot to complete a shutout hold for 4-1. Federer won 20 of the final 24 points to collect the opening set in 23 minutes. His serve set the tone: Federer won 16 of 20 points played on his serve and did not face a break point; Simon managed just six of 16 points on his serve.
When Simon netted a backhand in the first game of the second set, he clutched the side of his head like a man pained by a severe migraine, facing break point. The suffering spiked on the next point when Federer slid a drop shot that died in the dirt, grabbing the break for a 1-0 advantage. The third-ranked Swiss played the drop shot brilliantly as a set-up shot as well, winning 13 of 16 net trips.
Federer’s running forehand wreaked havoc in rallies. A terrific topspin forehand on the run stretched Simon; Federer correctly anticipated the short reply, swooped in and cracked a forehand winner down the line for a 3-1 second-set lead. Simon was no longer just facing Federer, he was playing the clock, too, as Federer was three games from a sweep after just 42 minutes of play. At that point, the outcome looked inevitable, but Simon salvaged serve and at least extended Federer for an hour.
It appeared that ambition would go unfulfilled, but Simon rapped a cross-court backhand that struck the sideline and careened crazily away from Federer, who barely got his frame on the ball while acknowledging the blow with a loud “Oh Yeah.” That shot—and the spirit he showed fighting off four break points in the game—were about the only highlights for Simon, who stared at his strings as if seeking solutions.
Federer had all the answers tonight. Dancing to his left, he ripped an inside-out forehand return that left a stretched Simon without much room for reply as Federer broke for 5-2. When it was over, a bemused Simon offered a good-natured hand-shake and a wry, "thanks for the lesson" smile. Federer said some of his style choices were shaped by Italians’ love affair with artistry.
“I know Italians like a little flair so I played some drop shots and came to the net; I used it more often than I usually do, so I hope you guys enjoyed it,” Federer told the fans.