Roger Federer is not going to leave a stack of soulless husks in his wake at Wimbledon the way Rafael Nadal did at the French Open. Nadal left Paris with a body count; Federer was sure to be a little different in London. He has always revealed more flashes of mushy mortality—netting backhands, double-faulting at fatal moments—and even if he survives well into next week, the tournament favorite will lose plenty of games, will play a handful of tiebreaks, and—gasp—drop entire sets along the way. These things will surely happen, and they may even happen in the next round. But despite a break in his very first service game of the match, these things did not meaningfully happen to Roger Federer today, as he beat world No. 79 Dusan Lajovic 7-6(0), 6-3, 6-2.
Lajovic was making crisp, commanding contact with the ball for the whole first set, but in the tiebreak Federer quickly set the tone for the rest of the match, winning seven points in a row. This backhand-forehand one-two punch is textbook Fed, tenderizing the corners of the court:
By the time that last point come around in the second set, Lajovic must have felt the same nettle in his side that so many other players have suffered when facing the greatest. After playing well out of his usual comfort zone for roughly an hour, even making a tiebreak, you’re still down a set and a break, and there aren’t too many new tricks left in the bag. Federer, in contrast, started loosening up and experimenting a little bit once the victory felt secure enough. Given that his first-round match was cut short by Alexandr Dolgopolov’s early retirement, this was Federer’s first full opportunity to log some court time. And he seemed in no particular hurry to close out the match. In the final return game he tried returning a serve with such brazen aggression that he was nearly standing in the service box, and he failed spectacularly, falling on his own SABR. Then he gathered himself and served out the win.
He will have a little more time to find his footing and get comfortable; his quarter looks fairly soft. Lurking there are the brothers Zverev (both dangerous, but he beat both at Halle two weeks ago) his lesser facsimile Grigor Dimitrov, and the man who removed him from the semifinals here last year, Milos Raonic, along with some other miscellaneous filler. Federer could feasibly escape from this section of the draw having tested his grass game against an anachronistic serve-and-volleyer, an all-court mirror match, and a titanic serve, which would be a nice and diverse preparation for realer foes ahead.