A rain delay and a confident display of old magic helped Roger Federer defeat upstart challenger Marcel Granollers 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 after a dropped first set had many observers wondering whether a shock upset was in store for the Swiss legend.
Granollers came out firing against Federer. Both players hit 10 winners in the set, but the 28-year-old challenger won two break points and 70 percent of his net points. Federer wasn't playing especially poorly, but he looked uncomfortable coming up to net at times.
Granollers may have been able to pounce on the momentary show of weakness from Federer, but nature intervened. Heavy rain and lightning descended upon New York, postponing the match with Granollers up 5-2 until the evening sessions of play.
The unexpected intermission allowed Federer to regroup, but Granollers still managed to finish up his earlier work and take the first set. However, the match would soon look like the rout that many observers had expected.
The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg noted that few were there to witness the destruction to come:
The third set was simply just more of the same, with Federer placing his shots well out of Granollers' reach and defending the back line with aplomb.
The tall Spaniard occasionally tried to play up at the net against Federer—perhaps taking a page out of Sam Groth's playbook—but this rarely worked out in his favor. Federer hit an incredible 17 winners in the third set and won 11 of 14 net points.
The U.S. Open's official Twitter account provided a highlight of Federer's superlative play:
Granollers faded badly down the stretch. He put up a number of slow, inefficient shots that Federer was easily able to smash into the back corners of the court for relatively easy points.
Indeed, the first set seemed like a dream after Federer's dominant displays later on. The Wall Street Journal's Tom Perrotta summed up the feeling quite nicely:
Federer: "I had this dream where I was getting killed by Granollers and then there was this huge thunderstorm..." Mirka: "That's hilarious!"— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) September 1, 2014
Even when Granollers occasionally looked like he knew what he was doing, Federer held tough. Down 30-love in the fourth game of the fourth set, Federer battled back to deuce and ended up (nearly) winning the game.
Granollers was already broken; it was apparent in his body language and the amount of energy he had expended just trying to save face in this match. He then dropped two of the next three games, allowing Federer to comfortably move on to the round of 16.
Rothenberg noted that when Federer got on a roll, there was no stopping him:
Marcel Granollers won 5 of 7 games before rain delay, only 3 of 20 after rain delay. Federer rolling. #usopen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 1, 2014
Granollers, whose real specialty is doubles tennis, should have no qualms about losing to the legendary Federer. For the latter tennis pro, the draw looks quite favorable. He will face the winner of the match between No. 17 Roberto Bautista Agut and Adrian Mannarino.
His main challenger looming in his portion of the bracket is young Grigor Dimitrov, who could possibly face him in the quarterfinals.
The young Bulgarian lost in his only match to date with Federer, but he is one of the ascendant stars in tennis. If Federer plays like he did, after the rain delay washed away his uncharacteristically sloppy start, he should be a lock for an appearance in the semifinals.
All match stats per USOpen.org unless otherwise noted.