Tennis is a game of match-ups, and the pieces never quite fit right for Philipp Kohlschreiber when Roger Federer is creating a puzzle of problems across the net. In a match of the oldest and lowest-ranked men still standing in the Paris Masters, the 32-year-old Federer showed spring in his legs and sting in his forehand to dismiss the 23rd-ranked Kohlschreiber, 6-3, 6-4, and roar into a quarterfinal clash with Juan Martin del Potro.
Federer stumbled a bit in closing out Kevin Anderson yesterday and took some time to find his range today, but once he did, the 2011 Paris champion delivered moments of dazzle against an opponent he's dominated, having won 15 of the previous 16 sets they've played.
The unseeded Kohlschreiber created early opportunities, gaining double-break point when Federer knifed a high backhand volley wide. Federer saved the first with a crackling first serve and denied the second with a crushing inside-out forehand, holding for 4-3. That was the last time he was truly tested in the match.
If players wore names on the back of their shirts, you'd be able to see every letter of the German's surname when he turns his shoulders into his versatile one-handed backhand. Kohlschreiber tried to make backhand exchanges central to the outcome, but his forehand grew flaky at critical moments, and Federer was quick to step around his backhand and fire his forehand to torment his opponent. You can understand why this match-up haunts Kohlschreiber: Federer does everything a bit better and possesses more jolting power behind his shots. The Swiss unloaded his forehand to draw three straight errors from his 30-year-old opponent and break for 5-3, then slid an ace down the middle to seal the opening set in a half hour.
Kohlschreiber is capable of eye-popping shots, but when he's pushed out of position he too often pursues the low-percentage winner rather than occasionally trying to roll a recovery shot deep in the court. After seeing Federer crack his forehand into the corners to set up some beautiful soaring overhead slams, I can't say I really blame Kohlschreiber for taking his chances. You'd rather walk off the court knowing you took some rips rather than spending the match chasing as Federer carves you to shreds.
In the second set, Federer held at love for 4-all, then drove a forehand winner for double-break point. Skittish on a mid-court forehand, Kohlschreiber pushed it deep to drop serve, then doubled down on the transgression, spiking a spare ball into the stands to incur a code violation warning. Federer served 74 percent, struck eight aces and permitted just six points against his first serve.
If you want visual evidence of the gravitational pull some Federer fans feel for his improvisational dazzle, watch the fifth game of the second set. Federer stretched right for a forehand stab volley to extend the point, then soared high to snap off a slick high backhand volley winner that bounced over Kohlschreiber's head. It's not just the fact he pulls off the toughest shot in tennis, it's that he relishes the buzz of both the challenge of making that magic and the appreciation of the crowd seeing it. Regardless of ranking, it makes Federer special to watch.
Of course, Federer will have to operate at a high level for the full match when he faces a more daunting opponent in del Potro, who defeated him in his hometown Basel final on Sunday.