Federer stutters into quarters, defeating Malisse

Roger Federer made hard work of his fourth-round match at Wimbledon Monday, as he lumbered to a 7-6 6-1 4-6 6-3 victory over the unseeded Xavier Malisse.

Novak Djokovic dismantled Victor Troicki effortlessly in a one-sided affair to a 6-3 6-1 6-3. And fourth seed Andy Murray was well on his way to victory, leading 7-5 3-1 before rain suspended the match.Following his third-round horror show, where he was fortunate to escape with his Wimbledon campaign still intact, Federer took to Center Court Monday intent on restoring the status quo.

In his way was world No. 75 and former Wimbledon semifinalist Xavier Malisse, who had been enjoying a rather auspicious tournament thus far, after dispatching seeds Giles Simon and Fernando Verdasco in the previous two rounds.

From the offset, Federer appeared hell-bent on avoiding another blip, as he held serve to love in the opening game, in under a minute. But Malisse issued a steady riposte, matching the six-time champion blow for blow in the early goings.

Federer’s game began to waver, and the third seed seemed devoid of gumption and guile. His laborious footwork was proving a deterrent as he was consistently late on his shots, failing to take the ball on the rise as he so often does.

Malisse was looking comfortable, and both players held serve for the first nine games. With the match finely poised at 5-4 and 15-15, Federer played a delicious drop shot, to move within two points of the set.

The Federer of old would have mercilessly pounced on such an opening, but the Federer of today has apparently abandoned his killer instinct, and Malisse held serve comfortably following three straight points.

Malisse maintained his mini-run, winning the opening two points on Federer’s subsequent service game. His sloppiness persisted and when Malisse broke to go within a game of the set, deja vu was in the offing, with Federer’s hopes shrouded in uncertainty, just as they were Saturday when he went two sets down to Julien Benneteau.

But Malisse failed to capitalize on the glorious opportunity, with Federer breaking back to love, capping off the game with a drop shot that unraveled the footing of the Belgian, who unceremoniously stumbled to the ground as he scrambled forward.

The momentum had shifted, and the tiebreak featured more of the same for Federer, who bombarded his opponent, eventually running out a resounding 7-1 winner to close out the first set.

Following Federer’s injury timeout in the first set, the intermittent nature of the match continued with the interruption of rain. The roof was incorporated, and roughly half an hour later the match resumed.

Federer showed no signs of rustiness as he maintained the one-way traffic in the second set. After taking the opening game, Malisse suffered the dreaded whitewash, conceding six games in a row.

Following his statuesque posture in the first set, Federer was beginning to move like a cat and his ball timing was suddenly unerring, with penetrative ground strokes overwhelming Malisse.

But the Belgian refused to go gently into the night, and a break of serve at the first time of asking afforded Malisse a glimmer of hope. He consolidated his break, with the most comfortable of holds as Federer was suddenly lulled back into his first-set stupor. The Swiss maestro did everything in his power to retrieve the set, but Malisse’s impeccable serving never waned, as he took the third set, to once again cast doubt over Federer’s game.

Remarkably the fourth set opened in a carbon copy of the third, with Malisse racing to an early 2-0 lead. Federer was treading on perilous times, and a fifth-set decider seemed destined to settle the tie. The tide would quickly turn though, with Federer storming back to level at 2-2.

Malisse never recovered as Federer collected five games in a row to move to the brink of victory at 5-2. Malisse held serve for the last time, before falling to a 6-3 scoreline in the fourth.

Federer’s latest victory ominously resembled his tough encounter with Benneteau, as the 16-time Grand Slam winner looks a shadow of his former self, when he won six Wimbledon titles, the last of which came in 2009.

Federer will now meet the dangerous Russian Mikhail Youzhny in Wednesday’s quarterfinals after he defeated Denis Istomin in a thrilling five-set encounter.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 03, 2012, on page 14.




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