SW34 is TENNIS.com's Wimbledon blog that will provide on-site news, insight and commentary about a pair of legendary 34-year-olds, Roger Federer and Serena Williams, as they look to once again triumph at the All England Club.
LONDON—On Monday, Roger Federer took to Centre Court to face American Steve Johnson in the fourth round of Wimbledon. The Swiss advanced with a 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 win for his fourth consecutive straight-set victory.
“I would have never thought I would win the first four matches in straights sets,” Federer said. “I’m extremely pleased…”
Johnson came into Wimbledon on a hot streak, having won Nottingham for his first career ATP title. The 26-year-old was enjoying his first-ever appearance in the fourth round of a major, having beaten a reformed Grigor Dimitrov in the round before.
"I couldn’t be more happy with where I am today, even with losing to [Federer]," Johnson said. "I'm very happy with where my tennis has been, where it’s come from, and hopefully where it will go for the rest of the year."
Pressing the net by attacking Federer’s backhand, Johnson got a look at break point at 2-2. The all-too-experienced Federer still got the hold to go up 3-2. Instead of keeping his focus, Johnson dropped his next service game, putting Federer ahead 4-2. Federer then secured another break to win the first set 6-2 in under 30 minutes.
This wasn’t the way Johnson was going to pull off a stunning upset of a multiple-time Wimbledon champion, a la Sam Querrey against Novak Djokovic. Johnson deserves kudos for getting this far, but he needed to play extraordinarily well to beat the 17-time Grand Slam champion, and Federer’s rapid, excellent play steamrolled him.
Walk out there expecting to win, but sometimes the moment is tough," Johnson said. "It took me a bit to adjust to life on Centre Court, but I felt like I adjusted fast… It's just a matter of executing."
While much has been made this Wimbledon of the depth of the game (case in point, world No. 772 Marcus Willis’ run), Monday’s match showed how big of a disparity exists between Federer, ranked No. 3, and Johnson, ranked No. 28.
Federer went on the aggressive during return games, taking advantage of Johnson’s defensiveness and second serves, and forced errors. Rewarded for his efforts, the Swiss got the early break for 3-1 in the second set. Showing the American how it’s done, he won his service game at love for 4-1.
Comfortably ahead, Federer cruised to grab the second set 6-3. Though seemingly in perfect control, Federer is always wary of how tough five-setters can be, even when he makes it look easy.
“[Five-setters] need a lot of concentration because the finish line is far,” Federer said. “If it’s close at the very end, you know how tennis is, it can turn around very quickly. For each set you have to reset and start over.”
Johnson, a USC product, needed a strong start in the third, badly. He’s won four team NCAA Championships and two singles NCAA titles, so while the pressure of playing on Centre Court for the first time was understandably challenging, this is a player who knows how to block out the noise and bear down.
"It’s totally different. When you’re playing for your school you have six other guys, and coaches to help you through it,” Johnson said. “Out there [on Centre Court], you’re by yourself. It’s different not having somebody to lean on…”
A double fault at deuce in the first game gave Federer a break point, but Johnson saved it and then secured the opening game. Finally, at 2-1, Johnson went for the kill, ripping two huge forehands to take the break, 3-1. The key, at that point, was to not have an immediate letdown and lose focus. But unable to keep it going, he sprayed a swinging forehand volley wide on break point in the next game to hand the break right back.
The American did his best to raise his level, staying in the match until 5-5 to give the Manic Monday crowd something to be excited about.
While most players have had to deal with jammed match schedules thanks to all the lovely English summer weather delaying play, Federer has come out unscathed. He’s played all of his matches with one or more days of rest in between.
“The matches might be tough, but the rest between them is great,” Federer said. “We’re used to playing five matches straight, and here you get every second day off, so for tennis players that’s huge.”
After an incredible on-the-run backhand winner on the line from Federer, Johnson got jammed and attempted a tweener from the baseline. He lost the game and went down 5-6, on the brink of elimination. To seal his spot in the quarterfinals, Federer hit an ace on his first match point.
“I tried to come in a lot to his backhand side, and I think I mixed it up a lot today,” Federer said. “… I was really happy with how I played. Steve picked up a lot of confidence on grass in recent weeks, and you could see it.”
The Swiss will get to contest his 14th Wimbledon quarterfinal in a tournament he’s played every year since 1998 (the year he won it as a junior).
“It’s nice that I’ve never missed Wimbledon since juniors,” Federer said. “…In 1999, I lost in the first round in five sets. You can [find] ways [to] lose the tournament in the first week, or never win it. I did a lot of things right in the first week. From now on you’ve got to play your best tennis.”
The seven-time Wimbledon champion will take on 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, who benefited from Kei Nishikori’s retirement (with a rib injury). Though Federer leads their head to head 5-1, Cilic won their last contest handily, in the semifinals of that 2014 U.S. Open.
“A few years ago he brushed me off the court like it was nothing,” Federer said. “…I hope to get him back this time. He’s a super guy. It’s going to be a really tough match.”