• US Open

Federer finding life 'fun' at US Open

Michael Beattie at Flushing Meadows
August 27, 2014
Roger Federer's backhand was in fine fettle against Marinko Matosevic © AP

Call it business class. Roger Federer launched his US Open campaign with a comfortable 6-3 6-4 7-6(4) victory over Marinko Matosevic in his opening match.

The 17-time grand slam champion, five times a winner in New York, showed all the attributes of a player confident in his abilities once more. His backhands have been an essential indicator of the Swiss' game over the years; that they made up a healthy proportion of his 41 winners, many of them passes, many of them spectacular, suggests all is right in his world.

With Federer's coach Stefan Edberg not arriving in New York until Thursday, basketball legend Michael Jordan was in the stands to see how his new business partner would fare in their co-designed tennis shoes. He would have been impressed with the 33-year-old's streamlined operation. With Federer's serve rarely threatened during the match, a single break in each set provided a suitably efficient route to a routine victory.

"It's good to come through a tie-break, that's for sure," Federer said about his finish to the match after Matosevic dented his armour with a break late in the third set. "Marinko tried to change up his game, tried to serve and volley. I though tonight was quite good fun."

Matosevic arrived at the US Open without a main-draw win in three previous attempts, but 2014 has been something of a banner season for the 29-year-old world No.76. After winning his first grand slam match at the French Open in May, he beat Fernando Verdasco in the first round at Wimbledon - his first victory over a seed at one of the four majors.

Federer, however, is a different proposition altogether. After a pedestrian start to the match on a windy Arthur Ashe Stadium the No.2 seed produced his first moment of magic in the sixth game, flicking a running cross-court forehand past a flummoxed Matosevic at the net. He was still smarting as he slam-dunked a smash into the tramlines to slip 15-30 down, but recovered to keep the match break-point free at 3-3.

It wouldn't last. Matosevic came into the match determined to beat Federer to the net, but one poor approach right back at his opponent was met with a wicked dipping lob that brought up break point, saved with an ace. A second was held off in the same fashion, but when Federer unleashed a backhand winner en route to a third, Matosevic cracked. A double fault left Federer serving for the set, duly delivered in 36 minutes.

Jordan had to laugh when Federer crashed a smash into the backs netting early in a second set that again went with serve until the sharp end. Once again Matosevic was his own worst enemy; at 3-3 he fired a short ball back at the 17-time grand slam champion but Federer produced the flicked backhand winner that drove the Australian to distraction and his second break of the match was sealed with a fading backhand return.

Matosevic found himself facing three set points at 0-40, Federer enjoying himself enough to chase a lob after the point was dead for a hot-dog that clipped the Australian. Federer saw the funny side but Matosevic rallied, forcing his opponent to serve out the set.

And then, a blip. Matosevic finally managed to take time away from Federer by surging forward and opening up a 15-40 lead at 1-2 in the third. The Swiss simply served his way out of trouble, however, producing four unreturnable serves to avert the danger.

Yet again, Federer applied the pressure at 3-3 with a little help from Matosevic. The Australian barely had room to find the net with a drop volley but there the ball was, at his feet after clipping the tape. Federer pounced, reaching 15-40, and while Matosevic fought back to deuce he self-destructed once more when the Swiss retrieved a smash on a third break point, hooking his second overhead wide.

This time, however, he could not consolidate. Matosevic, with nothing to lose and winning over the crowd by saluting Jordan between points, went into all-out attack mode and connected with enough returns to unsettle Federer, drawing a break to level up at 4-4.

Matosevic drew an early error from Federer in the ensuing tie-break, but his lead was short-lived. From 3-1 down the No.2 seed claimed six on the next seven points - one when Matosevic almost completely missed a forehand - and sealed it with a swatted smash to wrap up victory in two hours and seven minutes.

Another Australian, Sam Groth, awaits Federer in the second round. Asked what he expects from an opponent unofficially credited with producing a 163mph delivery in the past, he joked: "Some big serves, I don't know!"

"He is known for speed on serve and serve-volleying like the old Aussies," Federer said. It is the way he likes to see the game played, and a style he thrives against. Sounds like the 33-year-old is in for another fun match.

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