Roger Federer took one step closer to a sixth U.S. Open title with a first-round, straight-set victory over Marinko Matosevic, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(4), on Tuesday night.
It wasn't the most dominating Federer performance you'll ever see, but he didn't need to dig down deep in order to win. Even though Matosevic was a tough, unconventional challenger at times, Federer was comfortably ahead for almost the entirety of the match.
"Clearly I'm aware that he can play some dangerous tennis. But at the same time, I feel like it's on my racquet," said Federer before the match, per Darren Walton of The Sydney Morning Herald. "I have to make sure he has to work extremely hard and he knows the finish line is really far away, and I will try to keep it that way throughout the match."
A few top seeds have struggled in the first round in Flushing, New York, and some wondered if Federer could continue his 2014 magic.
As if the pressure of winning an 18th Grand Slam title wasn't enough for Federer, Michael Jordan was in attendance at Arthur Ashe Stadium to watch the Swiss, via SportsCenter:
Against Matosevic, Federer was debuting a shoe on which he and MJ collaborated. Complex's Russ Bengtson joked that Tuesday could have been the beginning of the end of Nike's newest creation:
Federer loses in those it's a wrap for Jordan IIIs forever tho.— Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson) August 26, 2014
Luckily for Nike, Federer never needed to get out of cruise control to stop Matosevic. The Australian put up a fight early in the match, but Federer's robotic consistency slowly broke him down in the second and third sets.
Federer was brilliant on serve, winning 53 of his 60 first serves, according to the U.S. Open's official site. He also picked up 10 aces, compared to three for Matosevic.
The five-time U.S. Open champion was also unbeatable with the ball on his backhand side. He hit two backhand ground-stroke winners and seven backhand passing-shot winners on the night.
The two exchanged serve for the first seven games of the first set. Having earned a 4-3 lead, Federer picked up the first break of the match, and that was all he needed to close out the set. After going ahead 5-3, he quickly held to take the first 6-3.
Although he was never made to look out of his depth, Matosevic was clearly second best on the night. At almost no point did you ever get the feeling that he'd ever test Federer in a big way.
The second set is where Federer really started having some fun. Up 4-3, he unleashed a string of incredible shots that left Matosevic looking to the heavens in exasperation. Adding insult to injury, Federer hit a tweener after a point was over that hit Matosevic in the rear end (via SPR on Vine).
That about sums up how the second frame unfolded. L'Equipe's Carole Bouchard and tennis writer Steve Tignor felt that that was the moment when you knew the outcome was decided:
Matosevic is going to cry in a few minutes I think : Federer is on. Winners after winners.— Carole Bouchard (@carole_bouchard) August 27, 2014
Federer up set & break, officially into the smiling-at-the-Jumbotron-on-changeovers phase of the match. #USOpen— Steve Tignor (@SteveTignor) August 27, 2014
The third set was only more of the same; although Matosevic did manage to have some fun despite his tough circumstances, per Sports Illustrated Tennis:
Marinko Matosevic is getting a beatdown from Roger Federer, so he decides to talk to Michael Jordan between points. #usopen— SI Tennis (@SI_Tennis) August 27, 2014
“I just want to be like Mike!” — Marinko Matosevic as he points to a laughing Michael Jordan. #usopen— SI Tennis (@SI_Tennis) August 27, 2014
Matosevic was much more competitive in the third, perhaps not coincidentally because he attempted to keep the ball away from Federer's sublime backhand. One of the more confounding aspects of his performance earlier in the match was how little he was pressing Federer's forehand compared to the far more dangerous backhand.
Alas, that only prolonged the inevitable, with Federer closing out the set in a tiebreaker.
With his win on Tuesday, Federer gets Sam Groth in the second round. The two have never played before on the ATP Tour, so maybe a level of unpredictability will play in the Australian's favor. While he boasts a big serve, Groth will certainly need some help to beat Federer with as good as he's playing.
The 33-year-old continues to look on pace for a final against Novak Djokovic. With the way that Federer played tonight, he has to still be considered if not the favorite than the second favorite behind Djokovic. He cruised against Matosevic without really ever breaking a sweat.