Roger Federer's quest for his first Grand Slam title since 2012 picked up steam Thursday as the No. 4 seed defeated Luxembourg's Gilles Muller 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 in the second round at Wimbledon 2014.
The Swiss superstar was absolutely clinical in his domination of Muller as he picked him apart on serve and earned some timely breaks as well.
Federer entered the match as a big favorite, partly due to the fact that he owned a 3-0 career record against Muller. With that said, Muller is a veteran player who has scored some big wins at Wimbledon in the past.
According to Wimbledon's official Twitter account, Muller ousted one of the game's all-time greats at All England Club nine years ago:
Federer makes his way onto Centre Court for his 2R clash with Gilles Muller, who beat Nadal here back in 2005 pic.twitter.com/j0zCFmHhMK— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) June 26, 2014
Federer is an even more iconic player than Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, so there is no question that he had a big target on his back from Muller's perspective.
Despite the pressure of playing against a tricky left-handed player with a solid resume, Federer was steady throughout the match and looked particularly good early.
Along with a couple comfortable holds, Federer was able to break Muller and put him behind the eight ball. According to Andrew Burton of Tennis World, Federer's court coverage seemed to be the difference during the opening set:
Two comfortable holds. Federer leads 4-3 with a break. Federer, as you'd expect, moves just a bit better on the grass.— Andrew Burton (@burtonad) June 26, 2014
In addition to that, Federer was nearly flawless on serve. Muller simply couldn't get anything going as far as returns were concerned and was nearly shut out in that regard, per Chiara Gambuzza of Tennis World Italia:
Federer closes the first set 6/3 with a 2/3 on BPs and losing ONE point on his service game.— chiara gambuzza (@ChiaraGamTWI) June 26, 2014
After taking the first set in routine fashion, Federer continued his serving assault. Muller was able to offer up more resistance, though, as he served well in his own right. With Federer leading the set 4-3, play was temporarily stopped due to rain, according to Erik Gudris of USA Today:
Rain halts play on Centre Court at the moment with Federer up a set v. Muller. #Wimbledon2014— Erik Gudris (@ATNtennis) June 26, 2014
The delay was a brief one, though, as the roof on Centre Court was closed and play resumed in a timely fashion.
Federer and Muller continued their trend of trading holds until Fed took a 6-5 lead. With Muller leading 40-15 on serve, it seemed as though a tiebreak was a foregone conclusion. Muller crumbled, though, as he dropped the next four points.
There was some controversy as Muller may have been distracted by an announcement over the loudspeaker, per Craig O'Shannessy of The New York Times:
Weird public address announcement when Gilles Muller serving at break point here on Center Court v Federer. Distraction. Lost set #Wimbledon— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) June 26, 2014
With that said, Federer put an exclamation point on the set and made no mistake as he lashed a majestic, cross-court backhand to frustrate Muller and take the second set 7-5.
At that point, Federer and Muller were the only game in town as rain had washed out all the other matches on outside courts, according to Tennis.com:
Federer with a two-set lead over Muller on Centre Court; all other matches cancelled due to rain. #Wimbledon— TENNIS.com (@Tennis) June 26, 2014
Federer is perhaps the most graceful tennis player ever, so it came as a bit of a surprise when he struggled with his footing early in the third set. Per Burton, Federer hit the deck during his second service game of the set:
Federer holds for 2-1, but he slipped when wrongfooted approaching the net: we'll see if he felt a twinge. Signalled "OK" to Muller.— Andrew Burton (@burtonad) June 26, 2014
Luckily, Federer was able to avoid injury and carried on with business as usual. After that minor scare Federer was able to strike the first major blow of the third set. With the pressure on to save off a break point, Muller double faulted and handed Fed a 3-1 advantage.
Federer followed that up with a hold and very much had Muller against the ropes up two sets and 4-1. Muller managed two more holds, but Federer remained perfect on serve and closed the match out at 6-3 in the third without breaking much of a sweat.
One particular point of interest during Federer's second-round match was the strategy that he decided to utilize.
The serve and volley used to be a huge part of tennis, but it has nearly become extinct over the past decade or so. Federer used the strategy often early in his career; however, he has evolved with the rest of the players on tour.
Fed turned back the clock a bit in his first-round match against Paolo Lorenzi by implementing the serve and volley with great success. It wasn't quite as prevalent during his encounter with Muller, though, as Federer made it clear the serve and volley is a weapon that he doesn't necessarily plan on taking out of the holster with great regularity, according to ATPWorldTour.com:
I didn't serve and volley all the time. That's not how I intend to be playing. But mixing it up a little bit could be the way to go. I'll still have to see how it's going to go from here on, because at the end I'd rather not serve and volley and win my matches than go out in style serving and volleying.
Federer picked and chose his spots and did manage to win some points at net, but he played a far more familiar brand of tennis in dispatching Muller. He did show that he has that tool in the box when he needs it, which should keep his opponents guessing in the coming rounds.
The victory had to be a relief to Federer after he was shockingly ousted by Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round at All England Club last year. Federer has already ensured that he will fare better in this year's edition of the tournament, but he surely has more ambition than that.
How will Federer ultimately fare at Wimbledon 2014?
Federer's third-round opponent will be either Marcel Granollers or Santiago Giraldo. Their match was suspended with Granollers up 2-1 in the fifth set. Both players possess a solid grass-court game, but based on the way Federer has played through the first two rounds it is difficult to envision him bowing out in the next round.
Things will get progressively tougher from there with his first potentially huge test coming against Swiss countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarterfinals. Wawrinka won the Australian Open earlier this year and would pose an interesting challenge.
If Federer is able to get through that, a semifinal against Rafael Nadal and a final against either Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray could await. Provided the bracket is largely chalk moving forward, Federer will truly have to earn an eighth Wimbledon title.
He certainly knows what it takes to be successful at All England Club, but this may be the toughest overall draw he has ever had at Wimbledon. If Federer plays his very best, though, it can be argued that nobody can beat him on grass.
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