x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Federer too tactical for Soderling

Roger Federer came out on top of a service battle on Centre Court to book his place in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon today.

Roger Federer never looked flustered against Robin Soderling in what was supposed to be his first real test at Wimbledon this year.
Roger Federer never looked flustered against Robin Soderling in what was supposed to be his first real test at Wimbledon this year.

LONDON // Robin Soderling made a fight of it against Roger Federer on Wimbledon's Centre Court just as he had done in Roland Garros's main Philippe Chatrier arena in the French Open three weeks earlier and in most of his other nine meetings against the swaggering Swiss. As in all those other confrontations, though, the Swede ended up getting bashed. Federer must have licked his lips when he saw the name of 15th-seeded Soderling drawn in his section as a potential last-16 opponent. He knew he would be given a decent work out but he also knew that, barring calamities, he would win comfortably against a man who had won one of the 23 previous sets they had contested. Soderling had his chances on the way to his 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6(7-5) elimination in a minute short of two hours, particularly in the third set which he will look back at and believe he should have won.

He earned his only two break points of the match in the ninth game of that set but failed on each occasion to get his return back into play. He also twice held a mini-break advantage in the ensuing tie-break, unnecessarily squandering the first one and then watching in dismay as Federer produced the most outrageous of forehand winners. Federer, who had also thrilled an otherwise subdued crowd with exquisite backhand passes at a crucial stage in each tie-break, was grateful that Soderling's powerful serve which had brought so many cheap and quick points, faltered at the moment of reckoning, the Swede double faulting to present his opponent with an irresistible match point. "I stayed calm and waited for my chance," reflected Federer who has developed an appealing habit throughout his illustrious career of being able to play the massive points in the same way as he plays the insignificant ones. "It was always going to be hard for him [Soderling] to keep serving those big second serves when they really mattered. That's why I wasn't particularly surprised he hit a double-fault at five-all in the breaker." Federer said the advantage of meeting a player whom you have defeated so often is the lack of a need to do homework. He said: "When you play someone for the first time you go ask many other players 'how does this person play on big points? What's their strengths, their weaknesses?'

"But when you play somebody like Soderling whom you've beaten already 10 times in the past it just shoots through your mind. All the information is right there stored somewhere." Federer will have such detailed information in his memory banks on Novak Djokovic, the world No 4 whom he has also met 11 times but has a less impressive winning record of 7-4, Djokovic having enjoyed the most satisfying of his victories on the way to winning last year's Australian Open. That win came in the semi-finals in Melbourne and the two are on course to meet in the last four here after Djokovic stormed to the most emphatic of 6-2, 6-4,6-1 passages against the overwhelmed Israeli Dudi Sela. "I tried not underestimate my opponent, even though I was a favourite in that match," said Djokovic, who was pleased to go through in straight sets for the third successive match. "He's done really well to get this far." Before thinking about Federer, Djokovic must firstly find a way past the revitalised German Tommy Haas, the oldest player left in the tournament and re-displaying glimpses of the form that once carried him to second in the world rankings. Haas, who recovered from shoulder surgery, announced his threatening presence by taking out the 11th seed Marin Cilic in the third round, was too strong and consistent for Russia's Igor Andreev and reached the last eight here fro the first time in 10 attempts by virtue of a 7-6 (10-8), 6-4, 6-4 scoreline. Djokovic, who lost to Haas in the recent final of the Halle grass court tournament, insisted that it is "a different situation" on the lawns of the All England Club but knows that the inspired Haas will push him all the way. "I'm quite confident," he said. "But Tommy is certainly a great player, and he's playing really well lately." wjohnson@thenational.ae