Roger Federer down-sized his racquet and amped-up his attack in Cincinnati. Returning to hard courts armed with a familiar accomplice—his 90-square inch Wilson Pro Staff—Federer played with urgency at the outset in defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-3, 7-6 (7).
While it certainly wasn't a spotless performance—the world No. 5 rallied from a break down in the second set, fought off a set point at 6-7 in the tiebreaker, and converted just two of his 11 break-point chances—given the fact that Federer had suffered three recent losses to opponents ranked outside of the Top 50, any win, particularly one coming a couple of weeks before the U.S. Open begins, is positive reinforcement.
Looking fit and playing fast, Federer applied pressure immediately, but failed to convert on his first five break points. Kohlschreiber contributed to Federer's cause by double-faulting to face a sixth break point. The 26th-ranked German then missed the mark by trying to squeeze an inside-out forehand inside the sideline to gift the break and a 4-2 lead.
Kolschreiber makes a severe grip change from his western forehand to one-handed backhand. Federer exploited it with successive serve-and-volley winners—an exquisite backhand volley sliding with sidespin followed by another attack off a second serve—to consolidate for 5-2. The reigning champion snapped a high backhand volley winner to snatch the 32-minute first set, winning 20 of 25 points played on his serve.
Though Kohlschreiber is a talented player, Federer was 6-0 against him, winning 13 of their prior 14 sets. But nothing comes quite so easily for Federer these days, and when he sent a smash long and followed it with a double-fault deep, Kohlschreiber had a 4-2 second-set lead and hope. It was short-lived.
Standing his ground in a backhand exchange, Federer cracked a backhand down the line to draw an error for a break point and broke back for 3-4 when Kohlschreiber curled a mid-court forehand into net. The German fended off a break point to hold for 6-5 before taking a 2-0 lead in the tiebreaker as team Federer—wife Mirka, coach Paul Annacone, and agent Tony Godsick—each leaned forward in their seats in response to the escalating drama.
The five-time Cincinnati champion cracked an ace down the middle, sparking a run of five consecutive points. Federer's movement and recovery step seemed sharper than they were during his clay-court losses last month, but he still shanked some shots when stretched wide. A mishit forehand—his 18th error of the set—made it 5-all in the tiebreaker.
Kohlschreiber saved a match point with a firm backhand volley, then earned set point at 7-6. Federer erased it, whipping a 125 M.P.H. service winner out wide, and though replay showed the ball landed long, Kohlschreiber did not challenge. Federer's eighth ace earned him a second match point. Closing quickly on the ball, he lashed a running forehand down the line to seal an 86-minute victory with a satisfied smile.