INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—The main news of the night was perhaps that Roger Federer actually did step onto the court, and leave it on his own two feet with a win. After a fall in practice on Friday, Twitter was awash with speculation that the world No. 3 was nursing an injury to his right arm. No twinge was in evidence tonight, and after a first set of fairly indifferent quality, Federer found an extra gear in the second to brush aside world No. 185 Denis Kudla, 6-4, 6-1.
I'd seen Kudla play Andy Roddick in San Jose, a match the American teen probably feels he should have won. Today, Kudla won quite a few free points off his own first serve, defended solidly, and showed a forceful down-the-line backhand. He didn't let his head drop when Federer broke twice in succession in the first set to go up 4-1, and when a Federer double fault at 30-all yielded a break point for Kudla, he took it with an aggressive backhand forcing an error. That was Kudla's high point, though, as Federer was able to serve out the next two games without too much pressure.
Then Federer did something I've never seen him do, request a comfort break at the end of the first set of a three setter. Several players have been stricken by stomach troubles at this tournament, and after the match Federer owned up to a mild illness. Maybe Federer used the break to splash cold water on his face, because his game was crisper in the second set. Kudla was quickly broken twice, and by the end of the match Federer was playing freely, drawing a happy "Oh" from the crowd with a delicate, backhand drop-shot winner from behind the baseline at the end of a sparkling rally.
Federer put to rest the rumors of an arm injury in his press conference after the match, but he was fifteen minutes late coming in, and he looked flushed with low energy as he took questions. He told us that several members of his family are under the weather ("We have tons of stuff going on at the moment"), and although he has a slight fever, he's the least worst off among them ("Thank God I'm the tennis player.") He only has a couple of days to get healthy and ready for Milos Raonic, who'll be ready to rumble on Tuesday.