Sometimes, when you're Roger Federer, the countless hours you put on the court to combat the rapid aging process is necessary. Other times, you're just plain better.
The latter was the case Tuesday, as Federer scored a dominant 6-1, 6-2 victory over Richard Gasquet in their fourth-round match at the 2014 Sony Open.
Federer, 32, overpowered the Frenchman with his serve, nailing six aces and winning 88 percent of his first-serve points. To contrast, Gasquet looked flustered from the outset amid the beating-down Miami sun, hitting a series of unforced errors and striking multiple double-faults.
Given their history against one another, this match essentially played out as expected. Federer holds a 12-2 all-time advantage in their matchups, having never lost on a non-clay surface. Playing to his hard-court superiority, Federer was able to pick his spots and advance in a match that lasted only 49 minutes.
The world's fifth-ranked player moves on to face Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals. Nishikori upset fourth-seeded David Ferrer in a thrilling three-set match, taking a winning tiebreak on 11-9 to advance. The grueling and lengthy match could put Federer at an advantage against the up-and-coming Japanese pro, who defeated tennis' elder statesman in Madrid last year.
But Federer has given the tennis world far less reason to doubt him thus far in 2014.
Following a 2013 campaign that can only be considered lost in the all-time Federer folklore, the 17-time Grand Slam winner has been reinvigorated. He has already matched his calendar-year title total from 2013 (one) and reached three finals in his first five ATP tournaments. When asked how he's been able to come back by Mike Dickson of the Daily Mail earlier this week in Miami, Federer let out a rare moment of brashness, though he couched it in a typically humble way:
I don’t want to say this in a cocky way but I believe I worked the hardest from the top eight in the off-season. Many guys went off to play exhibitions, or were in the Davis Cup. I had time, I put my head down and worked and I did it without any setbacks. I played three straight weeks without any problems, ending at the O2 Arena. I thought if I could handle that and then all the December work and emerge in good shape with no problems that would be a great platform.
The hard work has certainly paid off.
Federer is yet to lose a set in Miami—or come all that remotely close. Ivo Karlovic took him to a tiebreak in the second set of their matchup, but Federer defeated him 7-4 in a break that never felt all that close. Gone in equally slight work was Thiemo de Bakker, an entirely unheralded player whose 6-3, 6-3 loss could be seen a mile away.
But the way Federer defeated Gasquet—the ninth-ranked player in the world—could be a message to the rest of the field. He demoralized Gasquet in the first set by taking advantage of every miscue and playing with an in-his-prime level of precision.
With the Frenchman struggling to find rhythm on his first serve, Federer came out with an aggressive game plan to take the upper hand on his second serves. Federer won eight of 10 second-serve opportunities and didn't miss on any of his three break attempts. It was perhaps the finest set of tennis Federer has played against an elite opponent in recent memory.
Sports Illustrated's Beyond the Baseline blog perhaps put it best:
The second set started a little bit rougher, but only mildly so. Federer and Gasquet split the first four games of the set, each holding serve as the sun seemingly started to wear both of them down a bit. Just when fans started to think they'd have an actual match to watch, though, Federer turned on the afterburners.
He held serve twice and broke Gasquet on each of his subsequent opportunities to finish off the match in fine form. Though Federer wasn't as dominant on second-serve points (he won 3 of 7), his 92 percent success rate on his own first serves was more than enough to carve out a dominant performance.
Gasquet had exactly one break point in the match, which, of course, he failed.
Federer will undoubtedly be the favorite against Nishikori, who advanced to his first quarterfinal in Miami. With an overall solid reputation as a hard-court player, there is plenty of reason for the 24-year-old to be confident about his chances.
"I was ready for longer rallies, I didn't think it was going to be this long a match but to beat him in three sets that shows me confidence I have," Nishikori told reporters. "To go to quarterfinals here the first time is what I want to do at these Masters and big tournaments and hopefully I can keep going."
That said, Federer is a runaway freight train at this point. Nishikori may have confidence, but he's probably going to need a ton of luck to advance to the semis.
All stats are via the Sony Open.
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