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With Gasquet victory, Roger Federer’s uncertain progress continues at Wimbledon
The 20-time Grand Slam champion takes a mixed bag of form into the third round.
Published Jul 01, 2021
WATCH: Federer addresses the media after his second-round win at Wimbledon.
Roger Federer’s quest for data continued today at Wimbledon. Certainly, he was glad to have won his second-round match against Richard Gasquet. After 12 tight games, Federer handily took the first set in a tiebreaker and then broke open the match, taking eight minutes short of two hours to win, 7-6 (1), 6-1, 6-4.
“I think it was a nice match back for me,” said Federer. “Felt good physically. Much more relaxed in many ways, as I was able to play a really good breaker, then have a great sort of 32 minutes to whatever the end was, almost an hour, hour and 15. I think it is really crucial for guys to be able to stretch the lead. What I was able to do today gives you a lot of confidence. You can start to play so much more freely.”
But seven sets into the fortnight, assessing the level of Federer’s current tennis remains a challenge. Though, as Federer noted after the match, the early stages of a major are not the time to peak. The two tests he’s faced have scarcely given him much chance to reveal an exceptional range of problem-solving skills, be it in the realm of tenacity or tactical deployment. Were this boxing, each could be considered more of a TKO than a conclusive, satisfying knockout.
Federer’s first two Wimbledon opponents were Frenchmen. There ends the common ground between Adrian Mannarino and Richard Gasquet. But one of the most sublime aspects of tennis is the nature of matchups. Mannarino, an uneven lefty armed with an array of chips and dips, possesses several tools that can disrupt the still-rusty Federer. Call him an aging pest.
Gasquet, owner of a far more impressive resume—including two Wimbledon semifinal appearances—was familiar and comfortable. Call him an aging shotmaker, skilled enough to have earned his share of wins, but hardly able to sustain a high enough level of brilliance against a better dazzler like Federer. Coming into their match, Federer led the rivalry 18-2. Gasquet’s last victory happened more than ten years ago.
And yet, for all Federer’s historic dominance, the first twelve games were less a demonstration of command than a parallel showcase of skills. Federer hit many of his customary shots—pinpoint serves, crisp forehands, emphatic backhands. Gasquet scored his share of points too, including, of course, those signature backhands that draw raves even from fellow pros.
Once the tiebreaker began, Federer was thoroughly in control. Even then, though, closure was not decisive. On Tuesday, Mannarino had retired after four sets. Today, up 6-1 in the first set tiebreaker, Federer won it courtesy of a Gasquet double-fault. Two games later, Gasquet served at 0-1, 40-0, but eventually found himself down break point. Live by the slashing backhand, die by the slashing backhand. In this instance, Gasquet’s pet shot betrayed him in the form of a shank. From there, Federer was untested.
At Roland Garros, Gasquet had also lost in the second round to a titan, in that instance Rafael Nadal. Though on that occasion his moment of resistance came in the second set—6-0, 7-5, 6-2—there too, Gasquet appeared mostly content to issue a brief challenge and then engage in rallies he was likely going to lose again and again and again. The same pattern was the case versus Federer. Oddly enough, despite Gasquet’s ability to lace his share of backhands, there is something rather narrow about his skill set and strategic approach.
Federer next plays Cameron Norrie on Saturday. Ranked 74 at the start of 2021, this British lefthander has shot 40 spots up the rankings.
“I feel like he's worked on his game,” said Federer. “This is what I would like to see every player do. When you see them again, for me as an example, a player who hasn't been around for a year, year and a half, you want to see a different Cam Norrie, you want to see a different player. You don't want to see the same guy again a year and a half or two later who hasn't improved anything. That is to me just such a waste and such a disappointment. But he has not done that. That's why I'm really happy for him. I'm excited about the match.”
The crowd will be torn in two directions: appreciation for a British newcomer, but also, of course, longstanding affection for an eight-time champion. This figures to be Federer’s first substantial query of the fortnight. Usually, he has the answers. But as has been the case throughout his entire 2021 campaign, little for Roger Federer has been certain.