August 30, 2017
Roger Federer took five sets to defeat American teenager Frances Tiafoe. But the world’s favourite player believes he will shake off the evident ring-rust as the tournament progresses.
In a thrilling rollercoaster of a contest, the Australian Open and Wimbledon champion looked at one point as though he might fall at the first hurdle in New York.
Despite being thoroughly outplayed in the fourth and then broken when serving for the match, Federer eventually raised his level enough to see off Tiafoe 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4.
The Swiss master put some of the bewildering twists and turns in his opening match down to his recent back injury.
Roger explained: ‘I didn’t have the preparation I was hoping to get. I always knew I was going to come in feeling rusty or not great. I was quite up and down.’
Tiafoe knew that he had run a living legend very close, and felt the result could have gone either way. ‘He won by the skin of his teeth,’ the youngster said. ‘I’m not satisfied but it was a pretty good showing.’
It was understandable that Federer was cautious in some of his early movement, as subconsciously he may have feared a recurrence of his back trouble.
But now that he has shaken off the cobwebs and survived a genuine scare, he hopes to perform with less inhibition.
‘My hope and belief is that it’s only going to get better from here,’ Roger reassured his audience.
And with Rafael Nadal safely through his own first-round match, despite a tense first-set tie break against Dusan Lajovic, the two superstars are still on collision course for the semi-finals.
Imagine the noise levels if that showdown becomes a reality, especially if a closed roof is required over Arthur Ashe.
Nadal has already complained about the distractions at Flushing Meadows, and the fortnight has barely begun.
He said:’I understand it’s a show at the end of the day, and I enjoy that. I feel part of this, of course. But under the roof, we need to be a little bit more strict about the noise, in my opinion.’
It can’t come as any surprise that night sessions in New York are rowdier than anywhere else, but players do still seem to struggle with the environment sometimes.
Federer took it all in his stride, though. ‘When the crowd really got into it, it was cool. It was loud. It was a great atmosphere.’
Best to go with it rather than kick against it, although poor Angelique Kerber, the former world number one, won’t have the chance to do either.
She was surprisingly knocked out in round one by the 19-year-old Naomi Osaka, and it wasn’t even close. The 6-3, 6-1 scoreline suggests that all is not well with Kerber, who hasn’t won a title since her victory in New York twelve months ago.
The German always struggled with the increasing pressure of stardom, although she insisted that having, and then losing top spot hadn’t changed her.
‘I’m still the same player and the same person,’ she claimed.
Her departure leaves Garbine Muguruza and Maria Sharapova as the biggest attractions left in the women’s draw.
Plenty has happened already at the US Open. And we’re only just getting the party started.