With their one-handed backhands and wrist-heavy topspin ground strokes, Roger Federer and Richard Gasquet can go from brilliant flick to skyrocketing shank in a heartbeat. You never knew which was coming next in their round-robin match in London on Thursday. A well-carved drop shot might be followed by two frame jobs launched into the roof. The Maestro never had full command of his instruments for long, while the Microwave only went nuclear for a few points near the end. After an hour and 21 minutes, Federer subdued an already pretty subdued Gasquet 6-4, 6-3.
The Frenchman played much of this match with resignation etched on his face. He stared at his shoes on changeovers and slumped his shoulders between points. More important, he spent rallies well behind the baseline, ceding ground and initiative to his opponent. Federer took that initiative; he hit 29 winners to Gasquet’s 11, and was 16 of 20 at the net. Federer also made 75 percent of his first serves, and was especially effective with his kick first delivery into the ad court, which was leaping off the court today, and which he used to save three break points.
But while he was able to push the issue and control the action today, Federer had his struggles, most prominently with his forehand. In each set, he grabbed a lead and then threatened to hand it back. When there was pressure, Federer didn't have the same easy swing and effortless racquet acceleration on his forehand that we’re used to seeing from him. Serving up a break at 4-3 in the first, Federer’s game went off and he was broken; serving up a break at 2-1, 3-2, and 4-3 in the second, errors began to flow and break points had to be saved. But each time Federer saved them.
Gasquet did what he could to help. Looking as if he had one foot on the court and another on a beach somewhere, he piled up 27 unforced errors, many of which were committed when he had chances in Federer’s service games. The best of those chances came with Federer serving at 4-3 in the second set. Down 40-15 and running for a backhand, Gasquet threw caution to the wind and sent the ball skimming past Federer for a 95-M.P.H. winner. Something clicked, and he did the same thing two points later, this time with a cross-court forehand return. At break point, Gasquet almost did it a third time, with another forehand return. But Federer reflexed the ball back a few inches over the net and eventually escaped when Gasquet couldn’t get off the ground for a backhand overhead. Crisis averted, microwave unplugged, match over.
Or, not quite over. It took Federer six match points to break Gasquet for the win in the next game. We’ve seen Federer lose from this point in the past, but Gasquet didn’t have the heart or the energy to put a scare into him. He ended it with a routine forehand into the net, and took another step toward the beach. As for Federer, he’s 1-1 in his group, and 3-2 in sets, with Juan Martin del Potro, and a possible spot in the semis, coming on Saturday.