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Federer feeling it in US Open opener

By Neil Schlecht
Tuesday, August 26, 2014

WHAT HAPPENED: Radiating rediscovered confidence, with a larger racquet, two new twins under his roof in Switzerland and coach Stefan Edberg in his corner, 33-year-old Roger Federer is – suddenly – a favorite to win the US Open. In his opening-round match under the lights against the unheralded Australian Marinko Matosevic, the second-seeded Federer was close to his imperious best before playing a scratchy third set. The Swiss needed a final-set tiebreak to win 6-3, 6-4, 7-6.

“It was a bit more difficult in the third set than I wanted,” Federer said on-court after the win.

Moving forward in classic Edberg style, Federer won 22 of 30 net points. Looking to volley has been part of Federer’s game plan to shorten points since he began working with Edberg last year.

Perhaps even more impressive than Federer’s net play Tuesday night was the magic he created with less-vaunted parts of his arsenal: feathery touch lobs and cracked topspin backhand winners.

“I came up with some really good passing shots tonight,” said Federer.

Throughout the match, Matosevic rushed the net nearly as much as Federer, in a tacit acknowledgement that he stood little chance playing from the backcourt against his free-swinging opponent. Matosevic, currently the 79th ranked paleyer in the world, had a much better showing than the only previous time he faced Federer, when he went down 6-1, 6-1 in Brisbane in January of this year.

Basketball Hall-of-Famer Michael Jordan was in attendance inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Federer wore sneakers that are the result of a collaboration with the six-time NBA champion. For his first test in New York this season, Federer dismissed Matosevic in the same manner Jordan's Chicago Bulls did to the local New York Knicks in the 1990s.

WHAT IT MEANS: Last year Federer frequently looked a step slow, and predictions of his demise abounded. But the veteran came into Flushing Meadows having reached four consecutive finals, including the title at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati weeks after coming oh-so-close to snatching his eighth Wimbledon crown earlier in the summer.

The keys to his reinvigorated game have been Federer’s improved health – the Swiss has said he feels 100 percent, with no lower-back issues – and, as a result, his improved court movement.

One potential danger evidenced in this victory was Federer’s inability to break serve, converting on just 3 of 14 opportunities. That has been a problem in the past and is something the Swiss will need to improve upon in later rounds.

THE QUESTION: Is vintage Federer back? Can his aggressive game take him to the final and a record sixth US Open title?