Two elegant all-court players clash for a place amongst the last 16 at the US Open as Roger Federer meets Feliciano Lopez in New York. Both men are in the latter stages of what have been storied and successful careers, but are still playing some excellent tennis. Who will have the better of it in the first match under the lights on Arthur Ashe?
As in his last match against Mikhail Youzhny, Federer squares off against an opponent he has met often and enjoyed great success against. Lopez, like Youzhny, is 35, but unlike the Russian, Lopez didn’t meet Federer until 2003. That match was at Wimbledon when Federer was on the march to his first Grand Slam title, with Lopez his fourth opponent of the Championships. The first set was a tight affair with Lopez pushing the Swiss to a tie break but Federer took it 7-5. One break of serve in the next two sets was enough for Federer to seal a 7-6 6-4 6-4 victory.
Lopez has pushed Federer close on some occasions, taking the first set in their only previous US Open meeting in 2007 before falling in five. Their closest match came in Madrid in 2011. Federer won a first set tie break 15-13 before Lopez levelled the match in another tie break. The decider also went to a tie break, which Federer won 9-7 to deny Lopez. Where the Spaniard is completely outmatched is in experience, however. Despite a fine career in which he has won six titles and 450 matches, his numbers pale when compared with the Swiss’. Federer has recorded 1117 match wins and has 93 titles, including 19 Majors. Lopez has never been beyond the quarter-finals at a Slam, a stage he has reached three times at Wimbledon and once at the US Open.
Path to the third round
Though many expected Federer to progress serenely through the early rounds, he has struggled mightily. The American teenager Frances Tiafoe, his first opponent, started superbly, breaking Federer’s serve immediately. The American held onto his serve to see out the set, only to lose concentration. The Swiss pounced, taking the next two sets swiftly for the loss of three games. But Tiafoe wasn’t finished yet, and the winners began to flow freely from his racquet once more. He levelled the match at two sets apiece by taking Federer apart in the fourth. The match was delicately poised, but it was Tiafoe who cracked first. A poor drop shot allowed Federer to break and victory for the Swiss seemed certain. Out of nowhere, Tiafoe broke back, but that was to be his last effort. Tiafoe was unable to hold to stay alive and Federer sealed the match 4-6 6-2 6-1 1-6 6-4.
He next came up against his old foe Youzhny. Federer brought a commanding 16-0 head-to-head record into the match and dominated the early proceedings. Youzhny lost the first set quickly; managing only one game. But the Russian, once the world number eight, has no shortage of guile and was twice a semi-finalist in New York. He showed the talent that took him to such heights and battled hard to take the second and third sets. Federer looked flat, and might well have been heading for a much earlier exit than he planned had Youzhny’s body not failed him. The Russian began to struggle in the fourth, despite some flashes of brilliance and lost it 6-4. In the decider, his race was clearly run as cramp got the better of him, and Federer coasted home to a 6-1 6-7 4-6 6-4 6-2 victory.
Lopez began his US Open campaign against Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov. Lopez took the first two sets 6-4 7-6 and saw off a late challenge from Kuznetsov to wrap up a four-set victory. He next clashed with his countryman Fernando Verdasco. Verdasco’s fearsome forehand, which once fired him to the semi-finals in Melbourne and the World Tour Finals, ensures he is never an easy opponent. But Lopez looked to have a handle on his power in the first two sets, which he won 6-3 6-2. Verdasco won the third set to spark hopes of a comeback, but an early Lopez break in the fourth killed that momentum. Lopez finished strongly to complete a 6-2 6-3 3-6 6-1 win.
How do they match up?
The two possess similar games. Both men have powerful forehands and serves, and excel at playing aggressive first strike tennis. They are also both very accomplished in the forecourt. Federer’s net play is interesting both in its strengths and its weaknesses. The Swiss is actually far from the complete net player, his net coverage is quite poor compared with someone like Mischa Zverev. But he is amongst the best volleyers in the world, meaning he rarely requires more than one volley to win the point. A similar assessment might be fairly made of Lopez as a volleyer.
One area where Federer does have an advantage is with his backhand. Both men favour their forehands and deploy one-handed backhands, but Federer is more comfortable coming over the ball than Lopez. The Spaniard has added the topspin drive to his game, but it lacks the power and spin Federer can apply with his backhand. As Lopez is left-handed, his backhand will be exposed in cross-court rallies to Federer’s forehand. Lopez will have to vary the looks he gives Federer from that wing. Lopez would also do well to test Federer’s movement and keep him honest by going down the line with his backhand.
Federer has looked unimpressive so far at the US Open and Lopez is a dangerous opponent. But will the Spaniard be able to beat the world number three? Probably not. If Federer turns in the level of performance from his first two matches, then Lopez will almost certainly win, but that is not that likely. Over the course of his career, Federer has shown time and time again that he is more than capable of rising to the challenge. Behind that graceful style and relaxed demeanour is a ruthlessness and will to win that is probably unmatched on tour. Federer in four sets.
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