Federer plays through pain barrier to keep ambition alive

Big-serving Australian equals Ivanisevic's Wimbledon record of 46 aces as his greater determination grinds down veteran Las Vegan
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The Independent Online

Roger Federer's stated ambition at these Championships is to keep his feelings under control. He gave himself a pretty thorough test yesterday as he reached the quarter-finals with a 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over fellow 21-year-old Feliciano Lopez, despite requiring medical treatment to his back after just two games.

The Swiss No 4 seed, who is still on course for a semi-final meeting with Andy Roddick, found himself flat on his face just four minutes into the match, receiving massage on a problem which had emerged during the warm-up.

It was hard to tell what Federer thought about it all. He lay down on the towel provided. He got up. He furrowed his dark brow (slight trace of emotion here admittedly) and got on with the task of matching his record of two years ago here, when he ended Pete Sampras's 31-match winning run at Wimbledon only to fall to Tim Henman in four sets.

Afterwards, however, the former Junior Wimbledon Champion allowed himself to express surprise, and perhaps even a little thankfulness, that he had come through against an opponent who was seeking to become the first Spaniard to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals since Manuel Orantes did so in 1972.

"I don't know how I won today,'' Federer said. "I can't really tell you what happened in the warm-up. I just couldn't move any more, so I had to call the trainer and hope for a wonder. It was very tough for me. I feel it now - it doesn't go away like this.''

Asked when his back troubled him most, he replied: "A little bit of everything. It was totally blocked. I was always under a lot of pain. As the match went on it got a little bit better because your body gets warm. You get into it, and you try to forget it. But I didn't think that I would sit here today as the winner after this shock I had. I have to try to take this lucky, lucky match today and try to get rid of this and be ready for the quarters, because it's a great opportunity I have now.''

Federer's moment of deep concern gave way briefly to slapstick as the trainer, hurrying onto the court, went first to the seated figure of his opponent. The medicine man could have been forgiven the error, which aroused much mirth around the court. Federer and Lopez looked like twins, both tall and tanned with long hair swept back into a ponytail and retained with a white headband.

Their styles were similar too, as they mixed serve-and-volley tactics, looping passing shots more often seen on clay. But Federer, who had lost in the first round here in three of his four previous appearances, showed the greater consistency and a determination all the more laudable given the painful circumstances.

Every time Lopez raised his game, Federer responded. After losing his serve to go 4-5 down in the first set, he broke back immediately and went on to win the tie break with an ace.

The key game of the second set, in which he broke Lopez again to go 5-4 up was concluded with a deliberate backhand pass. It was a thing of measured beauty, like watching a skilled carpenter planing wood. And it drew from the Swiss player his one moment of untrammelled emotion as he shouted out the single word: "Yes!''

The third set tipped the Spaniard's way as he broke Federer and then went 3-0 up, but it tipped back again as the Swiss, having been denied on seven break points, took the eighth with another backhand pass to bring the score back to 2-3. There was another faint smile, too, as he produced an ace on his third match point.

Whether the former World No 1 junior has what it takes to become as a Grand Slam winner remains to be seen. It may have more to do with the way his back feels this morning than anything else. His next opponent, Sjeng Schalken, the Dutch No 8 seed who defeated Germany's No 9 seed, Rainer Schüttler, 7-5, 6-4, 7-5 yesterday, will be ready to prey on any sign of weakness. But yesterday provided evidence enough that Federer is a serious contender at a championship which is now bound to produce a new winner.

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