Cell phones sprouted from raised arms in the crowd poised to capture Roger Federer’s match-point moment after only about an hour of play today. A stubborn Paul-Henri Mathieu wasn’t willing to comply with the photo-op.
The French qualifier saved a match point and was two points from winning a hard-court set against Federer for the first time at 6-5, 0-30. Successive aces empowered Federer to force a tiebreaker; a pair of searing forehands enabled him seal a 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory that veered from dominant to dicey over the final 20 minutes. It all added up to Federer’s sixth straight win though he lost the range on his backhand and created complications for himself near the finish line.
A day after Federer doubled up with Stanislas Wawrinka on Stadium 2, he doubled down on the aggression in Stadium 1. When Mathieu flung a double fault then floated an inside-out forehand wide, Federer snatched his second break and a 5-2 lead. The four-time Indian Wells champion took the court with a 6-0 career record against Mathieu and you can understand why this match-up thoroughly favors Federer. He serves with more authority, is quicker around the court, much smoother transitioning to the front court and, most importantly, can jerk Mathieu around the court in forehand exchanges. Uncorking a kick serve to create open court space, Federer glided in for a backhand volley to close the 22-minute first set in which he won 16 of 18 points played on his serve, hitting six winners compared to just one for his opponent.
Mathieu’s predictable patterns were a co-conspirator in his troubles: TennisTV.com stats showed he played 81 percent of his shots to Federer’s weaker backhand in the opening set. Telegraph your intentions to a 17-time Grand Slam champion repeatedly and you usually set yourself up for day-long misery. But it wasn’t a flawless performance from the former No. 1, who shanked a several backhands as the match progressed, sometimes finding the frame while trying to drive that shot down the line. The miscues allowed Mathieu to escape a three double-fault game and hold for a 2-1 second-set lead when his drop shot crawled over the tape and he belted a backhand winner down the line. Finding his range, Mathieu saved a break point with a flat forehand winner down the line, sparking a run of three straight down-the-line winners to work through a demanding hold for 3-2.
In the ninth game, Mathieu saved a match point (and thwarted the rising cell phone wave), coaxing Federer into a running forehand error and eventually dotting sideline with a serve to hold for 4-5. With coaching consultant Stefan Edberg and good friend Gavin Rossdale watching on from the support box, Federer blinked trying to serve it out. He opened with a double fault, netted a backhand and though he saved the first break point he faced in the match with an ace, an unruly backhand and wild forehand followed gifting the break to the world No. 123.
Two games later, the set nearly slipped away: Federer was staring down a 0-30 hole and the prospect of a third set. He cracked successive aces down the middle and withstood a 25-shot rally to hold when Mathieu missed the mark with a backhand down the line. Trailing 1-3 in the tie breaker, Federer went on a four-point run, using a serve winner, two backhand errors and a double fault from Mathieu to edge ahead 5-3. At 5-all, Federer attacked behind the forehand to earn a second match point. This time, he made no mistake, twisting an inside-out forehand winner to cap a 90-minute win, raising his 2014 record to 15-2.
The seventh-seeded Swiss will play 27th-seeded Dmitry Tursunov, who beat Juan Monaco, for a spot in the round of 16. Federer has won six of the prior seven sets they've played though they have not squared off since his 6-4, 6-2 sweep at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.