It was more of an evisceration than a match.
But what an evisceration. In 86 minutes of surgical brilliance, Roger Federer gutted and numbed Roberto Bautista Agut until he had nothing left but his spirit. That helped the Spaniard save five match points but the jagged edge to the match came swiftly enough as Federer won through 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Forehand, backhand, serve, volley: all were scalpels in Federer’s hands. He won 92% of his first serve points. He hit 38 winners with just 12 unforced errors. And when he came to the net, as he did regularly, he won 30 of 40 points. It could have been 2001 again.
The win saw Federer through to the quarter-finals here for the 13th time, which puts him only one behind the record of Jimmy Connors. He has still not dropped his serve all tournament. No wonder he was happy afterwards. “I was hoping to get out of the blocks early and I was able to do that,” he said. “My last few matches have been dominated by big servers, but against Roberto I could work on my finesse and power.”
Next up for Federer is Gilles Simon, the No12 seed, who dispatched Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. Federer has won five of his seven matches against the Frenchman but most have been tight. As Federer admitted afterwards Simon is one of the best counter-punchers in the game. “I’m not going to look further than Gilles who has caused me difficulties in the past,” he conceded. “I played him tough in some of the majors – Australia and the French Open – and we played five sets both times there.”
That match will take place Wednesday afternoon, but the No2 seed will be able to savour this victory. Initially Bautista Agut seemed to be hanging with him, as the pair shared the opening four games of he match. Quickly, though, Federer was able to sprint away.
Two superb backhand volleys at the net helped him to his first break of serve. A peach of a forehand to his second. The foundations of Bautista Agut’s success at Wimbledon this year had been built on a high first serve percentage. After 19 minutes he had been broken twice and lost the first set.
The gulf in experience was enormous: Federer was looking for his 45th quarter-final grand slam appearance, Bautista Agut his first. The gap in class appeared just as great.
The second set started in much the same way as the first: with Federer on the attack. A punchy backhand volley put him 0-30 ahead and while the No20 seed was able to save a first break point, he was soon 2-0 down.
You could make a case for Bautista Agut having the edge in speed and he was doing the best to cover every blade of the court, but with Federer finding every line and angle it was not doing much good.
The Spaniard was able to stem the bleeding by holding his service game but shortly afterwards he slid to his right and injured his heel. The physiotherapist was called. Joints manipulated, he was able to carry on but as Federer powered another forehand past him and wrapped up the second set he might have had second thoughts.
Before the start of the third set the Spaniard’s ankle was taped up with a bandage. But the pain Federer inflicted continued regardless. In one game it took less than a minute for him to hold serve.
Federer has now – incredibly – not been broken for 105 service games, a run that extends all the way back to his first round match against Philipp Kohlschreiber in Halle. When asked about the startling run, he said to laughter: “The guys are returning terrible,” before admitting: “I don’t know but clearly having the extra week helped me be perfectly prepared for Wimbledon.
“Then again, Gilles is one of the best return players we have in the game so I would think I’ll be tested a lot in the next round. So that streak is maybe coming to an end.”
Batista Agut also kept fighting to the end but for all his stubborness and resistance Federer was way too good. Again.
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