Wimbledon 2015: Sam Groth thunderbolts fail to ruffle imperious Roger Federer

The seven-time champion, relishing his extra practice time on grass, sees off the big-serving Australian and is yet to drop a serve as he eases into the fourth round

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The Independent Online

Not even being on the receiving end of the second fastest serve in Wimbledon history could disturb Roger Federer’s composure as he reached the fourth round. The 6ft 4in Australian Sam Groth thundered a 147mph ace past him early in the first set but still ended his afternoon beaten 6-4 6-4 6-7 6-2.

Four years ago Groth briefly gave up tennis to try his other favourite sport, Australian Rules Football. He returned to hit the fastest serve at a professional event, a 163mph ace in Korea. Yesterday’s effort was only 1mph slower than Taylor Dent’s Wimbledon record.

Federer, seeking a record of his own with an eighth title here (and first since 2012), still managed to break serve in three of the sets and was always in command of his own until double-faulting to allow Groth a lead in the third-set tie-break.

“The only thing I really have to change is my returning,” he said about the task of facing such a fearsome server. “Once the return is played, then it’s about reaction, especially when he’s serve-volleying. You get to the next one, hit a pass.

“Really, I think it’s about keeping a short backswing on the return, trying to see it. And then also sometimes guessing the right way at the right times, remembering patterns where he’s gone to, where he’s been successful and where not. That’s the biggest effort for me anyway when I play a big server, understanding those patterns.”

Federer now plays 20th seed Roberto Bautista Agut, who knocked out the little-known Georgian qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili. The Spaniard will face a formidable Federer, who has been helped – perhaps more than many other players – by the extra week’s practice on grass since Wimbledon was put back a week.

“I’m not coming into Wimbledon not quite sure about my game,” he agreed. “I’ve played three matches now, no breaks faced, it’s great, which I couldn’t do in Halle. Halle was more all over the place in the beginning. Now I’m in a more solid place potentially.”

Other factors in his favour are a settled family life with his wife and two sets of twins, and an equally happy relationship with coach and former Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg. “I think, regardless of how you’re feeling away from the tennis court, once you step onto the court you just have to focus on enjoying yourself, because it’s a privilege, it’s fun, it’s what you at the end of the day really enjoy doing.

“It’s not always easy to put it all away. I’ve had my fair shares of tough moments during my career where I couldn’t block it out, what was happening in my personal life. So I feel when things are smooth within the team, with your family, whatever it is, you’re in a good place, it clearly is going to help you play good tennis.”

As for Edberg, who began working him at the end of 2013, Federer said: “I’m more comfortable around Stefan. When you spend time with someone you’ve looked up to your entire life, it’s a bit awkward in the beginning. You’re not quite sure what you’re allowed to ask, what you’re allowed to say. I think those fears are somewhat gone, even though every time he steps into the house, I can’t believe it quite still, so it’s very cool.

“But clearly I’m more comfortable. He knows especially the routines much better. Because he hasn’t been to so many tournaments for so many years, I had to show him around a little bit.  ‘This is a locker room, this is a practice court’. It’s been fun showing him again how it’s done.

“Obviously it’s important for him to be comfortable in the team, in the beginning getting to know everyone, my wife, my physio, my agent. And now it’s just very straightforward. We know when to speak about it, when not. Whereas in the beginning, you force a little bit more maybe. Maybe he tries to say a little more than he should, and I request more than I should. Eventually now he knows exactly when to say what, which is comfortable.”

With that he smiled the Federer smile, that well be seen deep into next week. A semi-final berth as second seed ought to be well within his grasp.

In that same section of the draw, another big server, Ivo Karlovic, powered his way past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga by winning three tie-breaks in four sets. The 6ft 11in Croatian hit 41 aces to take his tournament total to 136 in three matches.

It was hard to take for Tsonga, who did not drop a game on his serve at any stage in the match and even pushed the final tie-break to 9-11.

When Tsonga had a set point before the fourth set went to that long tie-break, Karlovic appeared to hit the ball twice. “It’s the job of the umpire, you know, to see it,” the Frenchman said. “If he can’t see it, I can’t do anything.  Even if I saw it, I can’t say anything.”

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