Here are my observations, watching Federer’s match against Karen Khachanov and his doubles match with Belinda Bencic against Khachanov and Pavlyuchenkova.
- Federer is playing great tennis at the moment. He was broken in the first game against Khachanov but recovered quickly and broke right back. He didn’t play a bad game in that opening game. Khachanov just played super. He hit two brilliant passes, one crosscourt and another down the line in that game.
- Speaking of Khachanov, I don’t see any fear or starstruck emotions from him, when playing Federer. In fact, I see a young man who wants to measure himself against the very best. He reminds me a bit of Safin, with the way he saunters around the court like he owns it. He just might… someday.
- Khachanov is also fast for someone so big. He lumbers around the court in-between points but once the ball is in play, he is as quick as a gazelle – another Safin-like attribute. This isn’t a walkover for Federer, not by any stretch of the imagination.
- Federer, on the other hand, is still playing the effortless free-flowing tennis we know and love him for. Three shots stick out to me in this match. His serve, volley (particularly the half-volley), and his backhand. It is ridiculous how much belief Federer has at net now. He patrols the forecourt with cat-like reflexes and soars from one side to the other, on the wings of an albatross. His volleys today have been simply divine.
- The second set has been monumentally more competitive than the first, with Khachanov showing Perth just why he was featured in last year’s NextGen ATP finals event. He is good. Good enough to take Federer to a tiebreak and almost win it. He also loses valiantly, by going for a sizzling backhand up the line that just misses – as is revealed by a Hawkeye challenge. How slender the difference in the second set (RIP Enberg).
- Belinda Bencic is definitely a great doubles partner for Federer. She compliments him well and just might be able to convince him to play mixed doubles with her after retiring from singles. However, she does make Federer do a lot of the heavy lifting in their matches with some streaks of patchy play.
- Pavlyuchenkova, on the other hand, is a revelation at the net. Her touch is so feathery light and the genius behind her angles is intimidating, to say the least. She definitely should come to net more in singles. On the strength of her brilliant net play, the Russian duo rally and win the second set.
- Federer’s serves have been causing her nightmares all night though, especially his out swinging serve to the deuce court. Such is the angle Federer finds, that Khachanov steps over to the middle line to help Pavlyuchenkova just in case Federer decides to send one up the T. It is a funny moment. Federer still aces them with a… you guessed it! Out-swinging serve to the deuce court. It is just unreal.
- Federer ends it with another curling serve, this time down the T, that leaves Khachanov planted on his feet. Another challenge called, and it is in. Tennis is truly a game of inches. If this is how Federer’s serving, then that serve just might win him his 20th grand slam.
- Bring on the U.S of A on Thursday.