Up at net, Federer wins in a breeze

His opponent was pretty sure he had put the lob out of Roger

Federer’s reach.

Not quite.

Federer extended his body, reached up to his backhand side and

angled it off for a winner.

That was one of 32 shots Federer won from the net Thursday night

in what, at times, looked like a practice match for the 17-time

Grand Slam champion – a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 83 Bjorn

Phau of Germany, a player who beat Federer the first time they met,

what seems like a lifetime ago, back in 1999.

”I don’t think it was a matter of him going more to the net or

not,” Phau said. ”The way he played today, he was really focused,

really playing well, actually.”

Top-seeded Federer needed only 90 minutes to close out the

match. He finished with 44 winners to 16 for his overmatched

opponent and also with 15 aces, many of them not so much of the

overpowering sort, but acutely angled shots Phau simply couldn’t

reach. None of this was too unusual considering it was only the

second round and Federer is rarely tested before the second week at

Flushing Meadows.

But in a different twist, he won nine more points from the net

than from the baseline – in part because Phau, with his array of

tricky slice and drop shots, was pulling him to the net, and in

part because Federer was forcing the issue and trying to end points

early.

”I like coming forward when I am up,” Federer said. ”Just try

maintaining that. And if things don’t work out that way, you can

always play it safe again.”

Like everything else at Flushing Meadows on this day, Federer’s

win was overshadowed by Andy Roddick, who announced he’d be

retiring after the tournament. Roddick, who dropped the surprise on

his 30th birthday, said it was getting harder and harder to keep

the tank full at that age – a reality the 31-year-old Federer said

”is not an easy one to face.”

”I guess you’ve got to have that balance between fire and being

relaxed and knowing where you are in your life,” Federer said.

He has a much better handle on that than in the late-90s, when

he was a struggling teenager and Phau was one of his

contemporaries.

”I never believed at that moment that I was going to become

such a great player,” Federer said. ”I was so weak back then. It

was just different times.”

No need to remind Phau, who said there was no way to

realistically analyze the way he played on a packed night in Arthur

Ashe Stadium.

”It’s tough to say because those guys always play on courts

like this,” Phau said. ”For him, it’s normal. For me, it’s

something special.”