Decoding Federer's puzzling, poor performances

The five-time US Open champion had another curiously poor start on Wednesday against Damir Dzumhur, after losing the first set to India's Sumit Nagal on Monday. This is the only time Federer has lost the opening sets in his first two matches at a Grand Slam event

By David Waldstein
Published: Aug 29, 2019

g_120423_bg_280x210.jpgRoger Federer of Switzerland during a men's singles second-round match against Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina at Arthur Ashe Stadium during the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, Aug. 28, 2019. Image: Hilary Swift/ The New York Times
NEW YORK — A persistent rain wiped out most of the schedule at the U.S. Open on Wednesday, but two covered stadiums allowed a pair of venerable champions to play on simultaneously, their matches ending only minutes apart.

Venus Williams and Roger Federer, with seven U.S. Open singles titles and a combined 77 years between them, played under the roofs in Louis Armstrong Stadium and Arthur Ashe Stadium, giving fans in those venues something to remember from an otherwise soggy day.

Williams, 39, showed flashes of her past brilliance and energized the audience in Armstrong with some electrifying shots. But she lost to No. 5 Elina Svitolina, 6-4, 6-4, in their second-round encounter, a match that was far more compelling than the score may indicate.

In Ashe, the third-seeded Federer, 38, had another curiously poor start, dropping the first set before beating Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia-Herzegovina, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. In the first round Monday, Federer lost the first set to Sumit Nagal. It is the only time Federer has lost the opening sets in his first two matches at a Grand Slam event.

What made both opening sets so puzzling was how poorly Federer, a five-time U.S. Open champion, played in them. On Wednesday, many of his shots sailed long or wide, and he had 17 unforced errors against Dzumhur, who is ranked 99th in the world.

Federer shrugged off the consecutive bad starts but knows that he will have to improve as he gets deeper into the draw and faces better competition.

“When it happens like this, back-to-back matches, it’s just a bit frustrating more than anything,” he said, “especially when the level is that low and there are that many errors, and the energy is not kind of there. But, yeah, I can only do better, which is a great thing moving forward.”

Maybe the rust on his game was to be expected, with Wednesday’s match being just his fourth since his loss in the Wimbledon final to Novak Djokovic.

But he said he would refrain from drastic changes and would have a light practice Thursday.

“So tomorrow is really just to make sure I get to feel the ball again in an environment where I have no pressure,” Federer said, adding that he has put in a lot of work since Wimbledon. “Every ball I play out there, you feel like some sort of a pressure not to miss it, having to make it, wanting to hit a winner, hitting a good serve.”

His next opponent will be the winner of the match between Daniel Evans and No. 25 Lucas Pouille, which was scheduled for an outside court and was one of 58 matches that were postponed to Thursday.

Federer knows that his ability to play Wednesday and avoid the rain delay gives him an advantage. But as he noted, it is one he has earned.

“I think this roof is more important when it comes to semis and finals than a day like today because they’re going to fall behind,” he said and added, “Here, I definitely profit from everything, I guess, that I did in the game and my ranking, to be put on center court on a day like this.”

The only day matches completed Wednesday were played in Ashe and Armstrong. Third-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic defeated Georgian qualifier Mariam Bolkvadze, 6-1, 6-4, in women’s singles, and No. 10 Madison Keys beat Lin Zhu of China, 6-4, 6-1. On the men’s side, No. 7 Kei Nishikori beat the American Bradley Klahn, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. In the first night match in Ashe, the top-seeded Djokovic required treatment on his injured left shoulder but battled through the pain to defeat Juan Ignacio Londero, 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-1.

Williams, who had not lost in the second round at the U.S. Open since 2013, said she was encouraged by how she played against a top-flight opponent, and she indicated that she wanted to play in the coming months, when the tour shifts to Asia. Williams also said she wanted to play more mixed doubles and return to the U.S. Open.

“There’s not a lot that I haven’t done or come close to doing, which is exciting,” she said, adding: “Of course I love the challenge of playing tennis. It’s beautiful.”

©2019 New York Times News Service

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