Roger Federer Survives Scare To Reach Round 2 At US Open
Two weeks after pulling out of the Cincinnati Masters due to back pain, Roger Federer overcame a slow start to defeat American teenager Frances Tiafoe 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 in his opening-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday night.
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Federer — a 19-time Grand Slam champion — opted for rest over rigorous preparation for the contest and said he played cautiously during the first set, so as not to aggravate his injury.
At first, Federer’s signature backhand was weak, and the 36-year-old Swiss — who has won the U.S. Open five times — appeared to move slowly across the court. Thus, 19-year-old Tiafoe took the first set.
“I just really kind of lost my footing sometimes,” said the World No. 3. “My eye wasn’t working. I was misjudging distance.”
In the fifth set, Federer returned to his normal self. Tiafoe was serving at 1-2, 30-40, made Federer run and delivered a forehand drop shot. Federer raced towards the net and fired a backhand winner down the line to break Tiafoe’s serve.
The young American then recovered with Federer serving the last game: Tiafoe saved a match point and broke the Swiss with a stunning forehand winner down the line as the latter approached the net.
However, Federer broke back in the following game to take the final set. On the last point, Tiafoe appeared to stumble while hitting a forehand, and the ball crashed into the net.
Despite his loss, the teenager — who entered the match ranked No. 70 — seemed content with his accomplishment in Flushing.
“I just went 6-4 in the fifth, at night, first time ever at Ashe, against the greatest player of all time,” Tiafoe said.
Federer said he felt well after the match, and complimented his opponent.
“I don’t think I had the preparation I was hoping to get,” Federer said. “Since Montreal, [the] focus has been more on the back, making sure I can play the tournament rather than being well-prepared. I always knew I was going to come in feeling rusty or not great. I was hoping to start better. I really struggled early on.
“I think Frances connected well. I just really kind of lost my footing sometimes. My eye wasn’t working. I was misjudging distance. I think I was also being a bit cautious with my movement. Then in the second set I think it all started to come together.”
The Swiss injured his back on Aug. 13 in the finals at the Rogers Open, which he lost to Alexander Zverev.
Federer’s next opponent in the tournament has yet to be determined.
Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, also overcame a shaky first set to defeat Serbian Dusan Lajovic 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday.
The Spaniard — who played while the loud sound of heavy rain poured down on the roof at Arthur Ashe — also made headlines this week for questioning the timing of Andy Murray’s withdrawal from the U.S. Open.
The World No. 2 from Scotland seemed ready to play in Flushing but exited on Saturday after claiming his hip was too sore.
Had Murray pulled out prior to Friday’s draw, Federer would have moved up to number two seed and he and Nadal would not have been in the same half of the draw.
“I always thought that he was going to be playing if he was here practicing,” said Nadal of Murray. “It was a little bit strange that he retired just the morning after the draw was made. It was something that is a little bit strange and difficult to understand.”
“Injuries are bad for everybody. I know better than all of them. So I wish him fast and good recovery. That’s the most important thing.”
Nadal withdrew from Wimbledon in 2009 on the Friday night after the draw had been made due to ongoing knee problems.
Nadal’s second-round opponent will be either American wild card Tommy Paul or Taro Daniel of Japan. The match between the latter two was postponed due to the rain on Tuesday.
NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 29: Roger Federer of Switzerland returns a shot to Frances Tiafoe on Day Two of the 2017 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 29, 2017 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)