NEW YORK—After a pair of slow starts in the first and second rounds when he was down a set before taking both matches in four sets, Roger Federer took the court on Friday against Dan Evans and restored order. His game was flowing freely for the first time in the tournament. He was enjoying the quicker daytime conditions beneath a bright blue sky as he went to work at noon. He found his range off the ground, with his shots flowing freely again. His serve was rhythmic, customarily precise and impossible for Evans to read from start to finish. Federer was victorious, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1, in 80 ruthless and efficient minutes, and so the five time US Open champion moves on to the fourth round.
The 38-year-old Swiss’s form was unassailable in his contest with Evans, who had toppled Lucas Pouille the day before in four sets. That triumph took something out of him both physically and emotionally. Federer came into this appointment fresh, benefitting from having a day off. He was eager to forget about the way he had played against the qualifier Sumit Nagal and old sparring partner Damir Dzumhur.
He knew full well as his confrontation with Evans unfolded that he was facing a fellow who was way out of sorts. Evans was chiding himself, talking anxiously to his team, complaining incessantly about this or that and generally revealing his vulnerability from the beginning right up to the end of the brief battle. As magnificently as Federer played on Arthur Ashe Stadium in front of a typically appreciate audience, his task was eased considerably by the negative attitude of the disgruntled world No. 58. Evans was uptight, insecure, befuddled and infuriated. To be sure, he knew how well Federer was playing and how hard it would be to succeed. But Evans made matters worse by mocking himself.
Symbolically, Federer opened the proceedings with an ace down the T, setting the tone by holding at 15. After Evans made it to 1-1, Federer had another comfortable hold in the third game. Although Evans admirably held on from 0-40 to reach 2-1, it was already evident that he was not going to make much of an impression on this sunny afternoon against his renowned 38-year-old adversary. Federer held at 15 for 3-2, broke at 15 in the sixth game with winners off both flanks, and then took the next two games at the cost of only four more points.
Federer had sealed the set on a run of four consecutive games, collecting 16 of 22 points in the process. Evans was dispirited. Although the British competitor managed to hold on from 15-40 to reach 1-1 in the second set, his confidence was hardly altered by that development. Federer took three love games in a row to arrive at 4-1 swiftly. Evans held on in the sixth game but Federer simply shook that off nonchalantly and captured two more love games in a row. Evans was desperate now, dropping two games in a row without winning another point. Another 6-2 set had gone to the 20-time Grand Slam winner, who was barely breaking a sweat.
Federer commenced the third set with two aces in a love game and broke for 2-0. At long last, Evans broke serve in the third game for the only time in the match as Federer made a couple of uncharacteristic errors off the forehand, and Evans reacted with relief and joy.
But the joy was fleeting. Evans was broken at love to fall behind 3-1, opening and closing that game with double faults. Federer glided to victory from there, winning three games in a row for the victory. Evans self-destructed while Federer floated through a win that was never even remotely in doubt.
Asked to compare his easy win to the first couple of rounds, Federer said, “At the end of the day, I think what matters the most for me is that I am in the third round, after all, after those two sort of slow starts. Give myself a chance to do better, and I did. You almost tend to forget what happened and you move forward. You’re like, ‘I actually can go through, you know, three sets in a row playing really good tennis.’ Today was good. You know, different conditions. I was able to adjust and take care of business. So it was good.”
Elaborating on what adjustments he brought to the court in his meeting with Evans, Federer said, “Well, maybe not overplay so much in the beginning today, because I also felt that Danny wasn’t doing much like he did in the previous matches that I played against him where he tries to hit really big on the forehand and tries to come in on the backhand. He also wasn’t pushing it. I felt like he was giving me the opportunity to miss. I had spoken to the team and we just said, ‘Look, we’re not going to overplay in the beginning. Take care of your serves. If he can smash winners, well, that’s too good.’ Over time I got very comfortable and very confident. It’s a good feeling to have that after the last couple of matches.”
For Evans, it was not a good feeling at all to confront a Federer in full flow. “He was just too good,” said Evans. “Obviously I didn’t play my best today, but he got on top of me early and it was difficult. I guess he has got every shot, so it’s not ideal to have an opponent who has every shot.”
The preeminent men’s player of all time at the majors met a man with a career match record of 14-12 at the four Grand Slam events. That Federer won so handily was not surprising. He heads into the round of 16 on a high, feeling better about his game, knowing he has some big assignments ahead of him, realizing how much is at stake in the coming week. Federer is right where he wants to be, but from here on in the stakes will be higher, the opponents will be more formidable and winning four more matches will be a tall task indeed.
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