NEW YORK – Roberto Bautista Agut is a fine tennis player, the No. 18 player in the world, playing the best tennis of his career.
But a Federer in full flight is a completely different tennis animal than the likes of Andreas Haider-Maurer, Tim Smyczek or Adrian Mannarino, the opponents the Spaniard handled in the first three rounds. Bautista Agut had a front-row seat Tuesday night to what it looks like at the very top, as he faced the very best version of Roger Federer in the twilight of his career.
The 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 Federer victory was a shining exhibition of the considerable Federer arsenal although, to be fair, Bautista Agut and his flat-hitting game were the perfect foils for Federer to show off his game.
"He hasn't got the biggest game but he's consistent. He's fast. He can adapt. So he's got things that can make you feel uncomfortable, I must say. He can absorb pace well," Federer said of Bautista Agut. "I was very happy when the match was over, because, like, this I know: it's done. Next time I play him I know what to expect. Not like today."
As the 33-year-old Swiss pulls out the forecourt tools he didn't need to dominate during his heyday, blows off the rust and has them fine-tuned by coach Stefan Edberg to adapt to tennis in 2014, Federer is getting better and better.
The movement and explosiveness has returned, Federer said, after his back woes in 2013.
"Usually we don't see two volleys any more in today's game - either it's a volley winner or the point's over with an approach shot," Federer said in an interview on ESPN. "When I don't come in, they think I might be coming in, so you plant a seed in their head. I wish I could do more with the serve and volley but today, with the wind, it was difficult."
Federer came to net 52 times and was successful 33 times. There were only a few moments of inattention; Bautista Agut earned seven break points. But he could only convert one, when Federer had two breaks in hand and was serving for the first set at 5-1.
Federer also told ESPN that the back issues put the changes he has made in his training regimen on a bit of a fast track, noting that he probably wouldn't have made drastic changes, even to compensate for his age, had he been fully healthy.
The plan he and his team have come up with is a five-year plan. Not that he'll play five more years. He might, although that's unlikely. But he said he's training as if he were going to play that much longer, and so there is no tapering off as he winds down.
"As long as I don't have a finish line, if it's a year, or two or three, I have to work like I'm going to be playing for five years to come. If I knew [when the end was coming], then I could just stop the fitness and just play tournaments," he said. "For the moment, it's open. That's how I'm training with my fitness coach, everybody involved. From that standpoint i have nothing planned.
"Clearly it's a goal of mine to play [the Olympics in] RIo. I just feel good and I want to keep on playing."
With the 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win by No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych over 20-year-old Dominic Thiem of Austria (it took just an hour and 38 minutes), the men's quarterfinals are set.
It will be No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 8 Andy Murray, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka vs. No. 10 Kei Nishikori, Berdych vs. No. 14 Marin Cilic (who defeated Gilles Simon in five grueling sets in the worst heat of the day) and Federer against No. 20 seed Gaël Monfils.
Monfils defeated No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in straight sets in a match that promised a lot, but ended up delivering three sets' worth of a calm, tactical Monfils domination.
"I don't know. Where should I begin? Just a bad match for me. Didn't play as close to the way I wanted to, and I think it was a great stage for me to come out on there on the center court and perform my best. Just everything went the opposite way today.," Dimitrov said. "Of course, I have to give credit to Gaël that he played a really good match, but I also did a lot of unforced errors and that cost a lot."
Wawrinka vs Nishkori and Djokovic vs Murray will be played Wednesday with the other two quarterfinals slated for Thursday.
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