Roger Federer Roger Federer set up a third-round clash with Richard Gasquet

Federer snuffs out Struff

Match Report

Roger Federer’s ability to fill a tennis stadium and keep it packed is one of tennis’ more notable phenomenons.

Consider the scenario. Fans had already enjoyed a high-quality three-set battle during which Australian favourite Ash Barty overcame Camila Giorgi to reach the third round. It was getting late. It was a ‘school’ night. But Federer was up next at Rod Laver Arena. Nobody was going anywhere.

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Australian Open night sessions have the capacity to extend late into the evening. Sometimes, fans trickle out as midnight approaches, facing a long commute home.

None of these fans did that. They remained, engaged and atmospheric, as Federer closed out German Jan-Lennard Struff well into the 11th PM hour. The defending champion’s 6-4 6-4 7-6(4) win sets up a third-round meeting with contemporary Richard Gasquet. 

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“I'm happy I'm still part of (the tournament) really, because I knew Struff could be tough today,” Federer said. 

“If you look at the last two matches that I've played, I felt like both of my opponents (he beat Aljaz Bedene in round one) pretty much kind of went for broke. When they see a mini chance to get on the offensive, they just go for it. 

“You don't want to be in defense too much. The moment you see an opening, you go for it.” 

We talk so often of Federer playing “sublime” tennis, progressing through matches in “cruise control” and competing “effortlessly”. And while it might seem cliched to reach for such descriptors, they were apt on Thursday night for most of the match. 

He broke serve in the fifth game and maintained that advantage to close out the first set. In the sixth game of the second set, he embarked on a run of service holds at love that extended well into the third. When he pelted a forehand winner to take the second set, the clock had just registered 65 minutes.

This was rapid-fire Federer at his best, eliciting gasps from the crowd for both the pace of his play and his ability to look casual and unhurried in the process. 

Rallies, 0-4 shots
90 Roger Federer
65 Jan-Lennard Struff

Yet this was not entirely one-way traffic. Struff snapped Federer’s streak of 18 straight service points won in the fourth game of the third, courtesy of a leaping backhand overhead winner. It was this play, against the tide, that seemed to remove Federer from his zone. A few points later, Struff had broken serve and taken an unlikely 3-1 lead. Federer broke straight back, but was forced to save a break point in the sixth game before levelling at 3-3. 

The match was more competitive now. The German – who at 196cm could draw comparisons with Tomas Berdych in both physique and playing style – had committed to bullying Federer about the court. He attacked ceaselessly, advancing on the net an astonishing 52 times and striking 19 winners to Federer’s 13 in the third set. 

Despite being somewhat under siege, Federer matched the world No.55 from the back of the court and was able to force the set into a tiebreak, thanks to another speedy hold in the 12th game made possible by a hat-trick of aces. 

Once here, his experience and polish elevated him above his opponent. With Struff’s aggression came inevitable errors, and when he sprayed an inside-out forehand wide, Federer held multiple match points. 

“I’ve practiced with him, played doubles against him and singles too … you know he can serve 215, 220 (kilometres an hour) no problem for five hours, I guess. So that’s what you are ready for,” Federer said. 

“I knew he was going to go for his shots, so it’s a question of me focusing on my own serve, protecting that as well as I can, and try to somehow get a break by good defence, or maybe he helps me out a little bit. And I think it was a little bit of both.” 

A winning serve out wide sent the Swiss through to the third round at Melbourne Park for the 19th time – he’s never fallen earlier. There he’ll meet Gasquet, against whom he’s 16-2. 

Again, we can expect the stands for that encounter to be full.

19 Jan 18
Match highlights from Federer's victory against Struff taking him into the third round of the Australian Open 2018.

Struff v Federer match highlights (2R)