x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Federer reaches for trick shot

This year's version of the between-the-leg shot was more technically difficult, he said, but not as key as last year's.

A combination photo shows Roger Federer of Switzerland returning a winning shot between his legs while playing Brian Dabul of Argentina during their opening match at the US Open on Monday night.
A combination photo shows Roger Federer of Switzerland returning a winning shot between his legs while playing Brian Dabul of Argentina during their opening match at the US Open on Monday night.

NEW YORK // Roger Federer lit up the opening day of the US Open with another moment of sheer genius during his first-round victory at Flushing Meadows. Federer had won the first set against Argentina's Brian Dabul and was up 5-3 in the second when he conjured up a sensational winner from between his legs with his back to the court.

Dabul looked to have played the perfect lob which landed just inside the baseline, but Federer came up with a mirror image of his famous winner in his US Open semi-final against Novak Djokovic last year. The world No 2 achieved a standing ovation from the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd, while a wave of his arms suggested Federer could not believe the shot himself. To his credit, Dabul, the world number 96, saved five break points in that game and four in his previous service game before Federer eventually served out for the set on his way to a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory in 93 minutes.

Speaking about the shot between his legs, Federer said: "I thought I was a bit late and had to give it one last push to get there but thought I could do this again. "It's different because Novak was at the net but I've only hit a few in my life and to do two on Centre Court in night sessions is amazing. "I feel very much at home here. I've always played some good tennis - six straight finals - and would like to go there again this year and I'm excited to be back and playing well."

The only disappointing aspect of Federer's performance was converting just five of his 19 break points, but the 16-time grand slam tournament winner said: "I had a lot of chances but credit to Brian too: his first time in a major and on centre court and I think he did a good job." Federer felt his between-the-legs shot this year was more technically difficult than his similar effort against Djokovic last year, but saw the 2009 shot as the more important in the context of the match.

"The importance of last year's was probably a little bit more important just because I think it was 0-30 to go 0-40, two points away from the match, and it was a semi-final," the Swiss said. "So obviously that has a little bit of an impact, too. "But maybe in terms of difficulty this one was harder, because I had the feeling I had to run a longer distance and I was further back somehow, I felt. "I had to really give the last big push at the end. I didn't have time to set it up. So I felt like this one was incredible again. I turned around and couldn't believe the shot landed in the corner.

"The ovation was fantastic. The crowds went wild. You could see from my reaction I couldn't believe it." And with 23,000 or so witnesses saluting the effort there can be no argument about its authenticity - unlike the trick shot that has drawn more than six million views since being posted on YouTube two weeks ago. In that clip, shot in Zurich shortly after Wimbledon, Federer is seen serving a ball and knocking a metal bottle off a man's head - twice in a row.

Federer has been coy about that video. Others have been sceptical, such as Andy Murray, the two-time major finalist, who said at the weekend: "There's not a chance it's real." Told that other players have wondered aloud about that one, Federer replied: "I can't tell you if it's real or not. That's up for debate ... I'm not going to answer that question." Could he hit a ball between his legs and knock a bottle off someone's head?

"That's kind of tough, the trajectory going up," Federer said with a grin, before acknowledging, "No, I wouldn't be able to do that." Meanwhile, Venus Williams won titles here in 2000 and 2001, had two runner-up finishes and nothing worse than a fourth-round loss and she looked pretty impressive on Monday, becoming only the fifth woman to reach 200 grand slam match wins by beating Roberta Vinci of Italy 6-4, 6-1.

It was Williams's first match since a June 29 loss at Wimbledon as she has been out of the game with a sprained left kneecap, and she landed awkwardly on that leg early in the second set. "Thankfully," Williams said, "after that, she did most of the running." Andy Roddick turned 28 on Monday, and after beating Stephane Robert, of France, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, was asked what significance he attributes to his age.

"Obviously, I know I'm probably closer to the finish than I am to the start," he said. "But ... I'm barely older than I was yesterday." He is, however, seven years older than he was when he won his lone major title at the 2003 US Open. There is a reminder of that accomplishment every time Roddick returns to Flushing Meadows: His spot in the locker room bears a special plate with his name and the year he was the champion, a bit of recognition he referred to as "the little deal on your locker that says you're special".

* Agencies