By Fernie Ruano Jr.
In 1999, Roger Federer was a 17-year-old upstart playing with little fanfare on the outside courts of the Tennis Center in Crandon Park, but on Tuesday afternoon the two-time Key Biscayne titlist and fifth-seeded player in the 2014 Sony Open Tennis had the Stadium Court crowd on the palm of his hands while clinching a spot in the men’s quarters, thanks to a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Richard Gasquet.
With plenty of pro-Federer support at his back, the Swiss star needed just 49 minutes to notch career victory No. 44 in Key Biscayne – second all-time behind Andre Agassi (61) – and run his record to 12-2 against Gasquet. But most pressing, Federer is just three wins shy from capturing title No. 3 in Key Biscayne, and his first since defeating Ivan Ljubicic in 2006. The win sets up a Federer-Kei Nishikori match after the No. 20 seeded Japanese player pulled off an upset victory over No. 4 David Ferrer 7-6(7), 2-6, 7-6(9).
Coming into Wednesday’s match, Federer had 9 straight set victories over Gasquet with the first coming on the Hamburg clay in 2005. It was no different this time around as Federer won 88% (22-25) of his first serve points and added 5 of 6 break points. Federer took the first set in 24 minutes. “Yeah, I mean, things went well on the court today. The first set he had a chance to come back into the set,” said Federer. “I think that, you know, ended up being the key for the match almost for him.”
“So, I think I played a good match. Just kept under pressure and hoped to win the match as quick as I could eventually, because you never know if there is going to be a change in condition or he’s going to start playing better, me worse.” On a recent resurgence, Federer, who slipped back into the Top 5 last week, is in line to face rival Novak Djokovic in the men’s semifinal. Despite losing to Djokovic in the finals of Indian Wells, Federer is playing some of his best tennis in recent history, evidenced by his run to the finals in Brisbane followed by semifinals showing in the Australian Open where he took down Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Last year, Federer became the oldest player to finish a season inside the Top 10 since Agassi (32) in 2005. He finished in the Top 10 for a 12th consecutive year, the first player since Pete Sampras to pull off the feat. But past history is the last thing on his mind, especially with Nishikori, a former practice partner, on deck. Federer expects a strong effort from a player he believes has matured, both physically and mentally over the last seven years. “He had obviously a very difficult match with Ferrer, but a great one which everybody watched in the locker room and the player restaurant.,” said Federer. “ It was one of those thrilling end to the matches, you, know, into the tiebreaker with match points saved. It had the whole drama.”