It might be Roger Federer’s first tournament since Wimbledon, but the Swiss certainly isn’t showing it with his tennis.
The seven-time champion advanced to the quarter-finals of the Western & Southern Open with a 6-1, 7-6(6) victory against Argentine Leonardo Mayer on Friday afternoon, and he will play compatriot Stan Wawrinka later in the evening.
"It’s been a while since I’ve played two matches in one day. Apparently it was 2004. I did play a lot of practice twice a day so if I won’t be ready for today, I’ll never be ready," Federer told ESPN on court after the match. "I’m excited. Playing against Stan obviously is a treat. Ten years ago and two days ago we won the Olympic gold together and we’re still playing... I'm very excited to play against him and it’s great for him, I’m happy to see him back again."
Federer, who went just 1-4 in his first four appearances in Cincinnati, has now won 43 of 47 matches here since. He missed the tournament in 2016 (left knee) and 2017 (back), but his victory against the World No. 50 extends his winning streak in Ohio to 12 matches and 15 sets in a row.
The 37-year-old lost just four first-serve points in his triumph, and did not face a break point. Mayer played well in the second set, giving himself an opportunity to force a decider for the second time in three matches against the World No. 2, but Federer extended his FedEx ATP Head2Head lead in their series to 3-0. He is not concerned about having to play a second match later Friday.
"We’re used to waiting. We came through the juniors where you played two, three matches and it rains and it stops and it rains again, so we’re used to it," Federer said. "I’m happy we got some play in already today and excited that the tournament is up and running again."
Federer will next face compatriot Wawrinka, who is playing his best tennis since undergoing two left knee surgeries last year. The former World No. 3 beat Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 6-4, 6-3 in one hour, 23 minutes.
Wawrinka was just 8-12 in 2018 entering the tournament, but he has shown that he is moving closer to his best form with impressive wins over 12th seed Diego Schwartzman, Japanese star Kei Nishikori and now Fucsovics, who tested him in a marathon three-setter last week in Toronto.
"Today it was important for me to start by being well, warmed, and ready. I'm really happy with the game, winning in two sets," Wawrinka said. "For sure it's completely different than last week. I think last week I gain a lot of confidence by winning two matches, losing to Rafa. This week I'm feeling much better with my tennis. So I'm happy to be in the quarter-finals. It's really good for me. I need to enjoy and get ready for tonight."
The Swiss is currently No. 151 in the ATP Rankings, but since he did not compete after Wimbledon in 2017, he has no points to defend for the rest of the season. A trip to the quarter-finals guarantees him at least 180 points, which is double the most points he has pocketed at any other tournament this campaign.
Federer leads Wawrinka 20-3 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, defeating his compatriot in straight sets in the 2012 Cincinnati semi-finals. All three of Wawrinka’s victories in their rivalry have come on outdoor clay.
"It will be really nice to play against him," Wawrinka said. "I had a really tough year with my injury. It was really tough. So now I'm happy to be back. I'm happy to be winning some matches."
Did You Know?
Federer has made the quarter-finals in Cincinnati in eight consecutive appearances dating back to 2009. The year before, he lost to Ivo Karlovic in the third round in a third-set tie-break.
Rain nor defending champion Grigor Dimitrov were able to stop Novak Djokovic from continuing his pursuit of a first Western & Southern Open title.
The former World No. 1 returned to the court Friday with a break lead in the third set after rain halted play Thursday evening, maintaining that advantage to defeat the Bulgarian 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Djokovic continues his push for the one ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title he has not yet won, despite reaching the final five times in Cincinnati. He now owns 29 victories at the event, passing former World No.1 Lleyton Hewitt for the most at the tournament in the Open Era without lifting the trophy.
The Serbian has been victorious in 24 of his past 28 matches after a 6-6 start to the 2018 campaign. But for a moment on Thursday, it appeared that Djokovic would be leaving Cincinnati early, trailing Dimitrov by a set and a break, with little rhythm from the baseline. The Serbian did not let the reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion run away with the match, though, digging in and significantly cutting down his number of unforced errors, using his backhand down the line to great effect.
Dimitrov was trying to build off the momentum of a quarter-final showing at the Rogers Cup, and was also pursuing his third Top 10 victory of the season.
Marin Cilic, who triumphed in Cincinnati two years ago, also survived a rain-delayed three-setter on Friday afternoon. The Croatian battled past Toronto semi-finalist Karen Khachanov 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-4 after two hours, 41 minutes over two days.
The seventh seed has now won eight consecutive matches at this event after missing last year's tournament due to an abductor injury. This will be his third quarter-final in Ohio, also reaching the last eight in 2012 before losing to Djokovic. While he could not convert on his first six break points against Khachanov, Cilic took advantage of his lone opportunity in the decider to advance to a meeting against 13th seed Pablo Carreno Busta.
The Spaniard was one of only two players (also Raonic) who completed their third-round match on Thursday. Cilic leads the pair's FedEx ATP Head2Head series 3-0, dropping just one of their previous eight sets.