Tennis: Federer beats bad back and Belgian to reach quarters
Against someone hungrier, and maybe a little younger, Roger Federer would have been in deep trouble.
But with the ever-mercurial but hardly dogged Xavier Malisse facing him across the Wimbledon net, the Swiss was able to navigate a greasy Centre Court and painful back injury to reach the quarter-finals on Monday.
His 7-6 6-1 4-6 6-3 victory hardly tells the tale of a match in which Malisse had chances to rock the six-times champion, but mostly failed to capitalise.
As Federer seeks a 17th grand slam title, he could do with a lucky break, though, and certainly the next two days will smell of liniment as much as triumph, and feature as many kneading fingers as flying practice balls.
The 30-year-old felt his back twinge early in the opening set on a chilly afternoon in south-west London. His movement was hampered and he resorted to rolling in serves at about 75 percent speed.
He left the court after the seventh game for treatment and returned eight minutes later before dropping his serve to trail 5-6. Malisse failed to take his chance, though, and allowed Federer back into it. He raced through the tiebreak and the second set too.
"I thought it was extremely difficult for Xavier," Federer told reporters. "I did apologise to him after the match just for the first set. I know how hard it is playing somebody that is injured."
Certainly Federer allowed Malisse no sort of rhythm at all, and the Belgian has always been very much a momentum player.
He got a head of steam up in the third set to win it, but again fizzled in the fourth as Federer sealed the win.
The Swiss sought to play down his injury as he looks to meet another thirty-something next in Mikhail Youzhny.
"I've had bad backs over the years," he smiled. "I've been around. They go as quick as they come.
"But of course I have to keep an eye on it now. I have one and a half days, which is a lot of time, to be quite honest, to work with.
"Two good night's sleeps and I'll be 100 percent on Wednesday. I'm pretty convinced, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to pull out the match the way I did today."
Only Jimmy Connors with 41 can better Federer's 37 grand slam quarter-finals in the professional era, but nobody has won more grand slam matches since tennis turned professional.
Federer's victory over Malisse extended his grand slam win-loss record to 241-36.
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