WASHINGTON, February 15, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
At age 36, Roger Federer is holding his own pretty well against Father Time. So well, it should be noted, that he’s just one match away from becoming the oldest male player by three years – yes, three years – to hold the World No. 1 ranking.
In Thursday evening’s featured Centre Court match, Federer continued his quest to return to World No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings before another enthusiastic crowd packed into the Rotterdam Ahoy at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Federer, who is currently ranked as the World No. 2 player, beat No. 36 Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, 7-6 (8), 7-5. The Swiss maestro was in tune against Kohlschreiber throughout their 1 hour and 42 minute second-round match in this ATP 500 hard-court event.
Now, just a mere 155 rankings points separate Federer from current World No. 1 Rafael Nadal. Federer will reclaim the World No. 1 ranking for the first time since Nov. 4, 2012 by winning one more match to reach the semifinals this week at Rotterdam. He will face No. 42 Robin Haase of the Netherlands in Friday’s quarterfinals. A victory by Federer not only will elevate him to World No. 1, again, when the new rankings are revealed next Monday. He will also become the oldest World No. 1 since Andre Agassi, who was just 33 years-old when he reached the plateau in 1999.
Before facing Kohlschreiber, whom he had never lost against in 12 previous matches going back to 2005, Federer was pragmatic in assessing his chances. “It’s a different match, changing from lefty to righty,” said Federer, who won the Rotterdam title in both 2005 and 2012. “I just I hope I can play a good match. It is a sprint to the finish.”
Federer, who lost only four points on his serve during his first-round win over Ruben Bemelmans on Wednesday, engaged Kohlscheiber in some long rallies early on during the 54-minute opening set by relying on his strong inside-out forehand to win points. Then, as the points grew shorter – he served a love game that took only 44 seconds to go ahead 5-4 in the first set – Federer won many of them by relying on both a deadly, accurate first serve and on his aggressive returns. He wasn’t afraid to make mistakes against Kohlschreiber, but always maintained an upper hand – that is, until the first-set tie-break. Then, the German broke out to a 5-2 lead in the tie-break and had a set point at 6-4, but he failed to convert it. Federer saved another set point with a service winner for 6-all, and aced his opponent to go ahead 7-6. However, he hit a backhand long that removed the set point. Later, Federer served for the set at 8-7, but Kohlschreiber fought it off by hitting a nifty winner. Finally, ahead 9-8, Federer fired a forehand winner that earned him the tie-break and the set.
“The beginning will be crucial … you don’t want to fall behind, you want to stay focussed all the way. Any lapses could mean that you get in trouble,” said Federer. “But, I enjoy playing against Philipp. I played really good against him at the U.S. Open, so I hope I can keep that up.”
On serve in the second set, Kohlschreiber’s fifth service ace gave him a game point to go up 6-5, but Federer gained deuce point and then a break point on Kohlschreiber’s first double fault of the match. The German followed with an aggressive volley winner from on top of the net to gain deuce. Then, he hit a 155-kph forehand winner, but followed it up with an unforced error for the third deuce point of the game. Finally, Federer gained a second break-point chance when his opponent hit a backhand wide, and he broke to go ahead 6-5 after Kohlschreiber double-faulted for the second time in the game.
With the game – and the match – on his racket at 40-15, the 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer put it away on his second match point opportunity to advance to the quarterfinal round. Although his service games averaged barely a minute and 30 seconds compared to more than three minutes for Kohlschreiber, Federer still managed to fire off 11 service aces and won 41 of his 46 (89%) first-serve points. He did not commit any double faults or face any break points. Kohlschreiber managed to win just 13 points on Federer’s serve. Federer outpointed Kohlschreiber 86-73.
• Friday’s quarterfinals will match No. 4 seed David Goffin against No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych (not before 12:30 p.m. CET), followed by No. 2 seed Grigor Dimitrov versus Andrey Rublev. Then, Federer will face Haase (not before 7:30 p.m. CET), followed by qualifier Daniil Medvedev versus lucky loser Andreas Seppi.
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.