New York: His opponent was pretty sure he had put the lob out of Roger Federer's reach. Not quite. Federer extended his body, reached up to his backhand side and angled it off for a winner.
That was one of 32 shots Federer won from the net Thursday night in what, at times, looked like a practice match for the 17-time Grand Slam champion — a 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 83 Bjorn Phau of Germany, a player who beat Federer the first time they met, what seems like a lifetime ago, back in 1999.
"I don't think it was a matter of him going more to the net or not," Phau said. "The way he played today, he was really focused, really playing well, actually."
Top-seeded Federer needed only 90 minutes to close out the match. He finished with 44 winners to 16 for his overmatched opponent and also with 15 aces, many of them not so much of the overpowering sort, but acutely angled shots Phau simply couldn't reach. None of this was too unusual considering it was only the second round and Federer is rarely tested before the second week at Flushing Meadows.
But in a different twist, he won nine more points from the net than from the baseline — in part because Phau, with his array of tricky slice and drop shots, was pulling him to the net, and in part because Federer was forcing the issue and trying to end points early.
"I like coming forward when I am up," Federer said. "Just try maintaining that. And if things don't work out that way, you can always play it safe again."
Like everything else at Flushing Meadows on this day, Federer's win was overshadowed by Andy Roddick, who announced he'd be retiring after the tournament. Roddick, who dropped the surprise on his 30th birthday, said it was getting harder and harder to keep the tank full at that age — a reality the 31-year-old Federer said "is not an easy one to face."
"I guess you've got to have that balance between fire and being relaxed and knowing where you are in your life," Federer said.
He has a much better handle on that than in the late-90s, when he was a struggling teenager and Phau was one of his contemporaries. "I never believed at that moment that I was going to become such a great player," Federer said. "I was so weak back then. It was just different times."
No need to remind Phau, who said there was no way to realistically analyse the way he played on a packed night in Arthur Ashe Stadium. "It's tough to say because those guys always play on courts like this," Phau said. "For him, it's normal. For me, it's something special."