The Swiss maestro has given the Monte Carlo Country Club a miss these past two years, but it appears he is no worse for any loss of familiarity with the scenic courts that dot the Mediterranean coast. Roger Federer, in his first match on clay since that misadventure immediately after Wimbledon last year, sliced through his second round match like a warm knife through a slab of Bordier butter. Radek Stepanek was mostly spectator-like in a 52 minute romp that saw Federer sail into the third round with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over the Czech player.
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal had to deal with a bit of inertia in his game before earning a workmanlike 6-4, 6-1 victory over a battling Teymuraz Gabashvilli to reach the third round of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters.
At 35, Stepanek may not rate as a big threat, but he hasn’t shied away from putting up some stellar performances in recent times. The Czech was pivotal to his team’s Davis Cup success last year, betraying his age and limbs to earn critical points along the way. But Federer, who had only twice lost to him in 15 earlier matches, got off to a blistering 5-0 start.
Stepanek never quite recovered from that early blitz by the Swiss. He did corner Federer at 15-40 in the sixth game of the second set, but the Swiss won four points on the trot to avert a break as he proceeded to wrap up the match in quick time. Federer is seeking to win the title in Monaco for the first time and erase some of the bitterness that might linger from his three straight defeats to Nadal in the finals of 2006, ’07 and ’08.
Federer struck 14 winners to nine unforced errors while converting each of his four break points to earn a satisfying victory. The Swiss will take on Lukas Rosol in the third round. The Czech player, famous for his upset victory over Nadal in Wimbledon 2012, overcame Michael Llodra 6-4, 6-4 to earn a shot at the 17-time Slam champion.
The press in Monte Carlo seemed far more interested in learning about when Mirka might deliver the couple’s third child and how that might affect his schedule than Federer’s match itself.
“It’s a priority for me trying to be there, trying to support my wife,” answered Federer. “I’ve played enough tennis matches. Missing a tournament or missing a match wouldn’t change anything for me.”
Federer was probed about the possibility of missing his first Grand Slam event since 2000, as the French Open is rumoured to fall around the same time as the expected delivery by Mirka. ”Yeah, let’s talk about it when it would happen. At the moment we hope it’s not going to be that way,” said the world No. 4. “If it is, that’s what it is, you know.”
Nadal, playing after Federer, lost serve in the very first game of his match against Gabashvilli. In fact, the Spaniard trailed 1-3 in the first set, but clawed his way back to 4-4 before setting himself apart by reeling off six straight games to snatch control of the match. The qualifier from Russia made one last statement of intent when he broke Nadal again in the fifth game of the second set, but that was only to be a red herring. Nadal swept through to win the next two games and seal his place in the next round.
Nadal will now take on the Italian Andreas Seppi, who toiled hard for a 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-4 victory over another Spaniard, Pablo Andujar.
“I think I started (a) little bit slow,” Nadal said before going on to credit his opponent. “But he (Gabashvilli) was playing very, very aggressive, hitting very strong, with no mistakes.”
All of Marin Cilic’s fighting first round efforts came to nought as he stumbled against a belligerent Stanislas Wawrinka. The ‘other Swiss’, who is busy putting his more illustrious compatriot in the shade these days, was mighty impressive as he coasted home in 46 minutes with a one sided 6-0, 6-2 effort over the Croatian. ”I expected a more difficult first round against him. I felt good on the court,” admitted Wawrinka. “I know that if I feel good physically, then I am able to put a lot of pressure on my opponent.”
In other matches, Milos Raonic stumbled a little to surrender the first set, but recovered quickly to sweep into the third round with a 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-1 victory over Yen-Hsun Lu. The Canadian converted only five of 19 break point opportunities, but made up for it with 19 aces to clinch the win just inside two hours.
Grigor Dimitrov got off to a terrible start, losing the first set to Albert Ramos but recovered well to earn a come from behind victory in three sets. In the most notable result of the day, 62nd ranked Pablo Carreno Busta, a man toiling in the Challengers last year, beat Gael Monfils 6-3, 7-6(6), holding the Frenchman off in a tense finish.
The flamboyant Italian, Fabio Fognini won his 22nd match this season, getting the better of Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6(6), 6-4 in a scrappy encounter that saw 11 breaks of serve. Another Spaniard, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, ousted the 17th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-1, 7-5 to set up an encounter with Tomas Berdych. Fognini will take on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the next round.
In doubles, Rohan Bopanna and Aisam Qureshi reached the quarterfinals with a fluent 6-3, 6-0 victory over Lukasz Kubot and Robert Lindstedt. The Bryan brothers also kept their sheet clean getting past 6-4, 7-6(4) despite dogged resistance from Lukas Rosol and Radek Stepanek.
Singles – Round of 32
G Garcia-Lopez bt (17) A Dolgopolov 61 75
(1) R Nadal d. T Gabashvili 64 61
(10) F Fognini d. R Bautista Agut 76(6) 64
(3) S Wawrinka d. M Cilic 60 62
(4) R Federer d. R Stepanek 61 62
(12) G Dimitrov d. A Ramos 46 63 64
(8) M Raonic d. Y Lu 67(4) 62 61
(11) T Robredo d. J Benneteau 46 60 61
P Carreno Busta d. G Monfils 63 76(6)
L Rosol d. M Llodra 64 64 Match Stats H2H
16.04.2014 R32 (15) N Almagro d. N Mahut 76(3) 63
A Seppi d. P Andujar 76(5) 57 64
R16 (1) B Bryan / M Bryan defeats L Rosol / R Stepanek 64 76(4)
R32 R Arneodo / B Balleret defeats J Rojer / H Tecau 26 63 10-8
R16 (3) I Dodig / M Melo defeats J Chardy / G Simon 62 67(3) 13-11
R16 R Bopanna / A Qureshi defeats (7) L Kubot / R Lindstedt 63 60