Roger Federer the night owl
NEW YORK -- There's a lot to like at night in the city that never sleeps.
You can get a decent hamburger at 2 a.m., at the Irish bars down on Second Avenue. Or a proper Manhattan in midtown even later. Music? Sometimes it goes all night in the Village. Even the food trucks outside Grand Central are serviceable.
Roger Federer was born 33 years ago in Basel, Switzerland, but he clearly is a creature of the Gotham night. The 17-time Grand Slam singles champion almost never sleeps at the US Open.
After Tuesday night's 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, Federer is now 71-9 (.888) here at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. That's the best mark of the Open era and the second-best to Bill Tilden's marvelous 71-7 (.910).
"I love the night session," said Federer, who needed less than two hours to close the deal. "I'm never going to say no to playing nights."
On Arthur Ashe Stadium, the epicenter of this sprawling tournament, Federer is a smoking 25-1 at night. It's no wonder he advanced to the quarterfinals for the 10th time in 11 years, where he'll meet the flying Frenchman, Gael Monfils, who knocked Grigor Dimitrov out in straight sets.
Federer is 7-2 lifetime against Monfils, including a three-set victory a few weeks ago in the Cincinnati round of 16. The match will almost certainly be played on Thursday night.
Bautista Agut, the No. 17 seed, is an interesting player. This is his 10th season as a professional, but he didn't crack the top 100 until two years ago, at the age of 24. In 2013, he raised his ranking from to No. 59 from No. 80. He made the biggest leap into the top 20 from last season, to No. 19, with an enormous jump of 40 spots.
He played Federer fairly close, but just couldn't sustain any kind of momentum. Federer, under the eye of coach Stefan Edberg, continues to move forward; he won 35 of 52 points when he came to net.
"I used to serve and volley some myself in the past when conditions were faster and my baseline game wasn't so good," Federer said. "I'm happy I was able to come forward. Coming to net requires a lot of agility and explosiveness.
"I've got that back now."
How good is the father of four feeling? He won his 53rd match of the year -- the ATP World Tour's leading total. It was such a runaway that midway through the third set ESPN cut to an interview of actor Luke Wilson sitting in the stands.
Federer won five titles here in a ferocious five-year swath, 2004-08. It's hard to believe that this is his 15th consecutive outing at the US Open. His first loss in New York? It came to Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain in the third round of his 2000 debut of debut.
For professional players, there is a big difference between playing during the day and at night. It's cooler, so the ball doesn't fly quite as quickly and, in New York, anyway, there are often swirling winds in the big stadiums.
On the European circuit, on clay and grass, there aren't a lot of night matches.
"It's like you're going through a stretch where you never play or practice really at night," Federer said before the tournament. "It's all day. So it was good for me to get through some night sessions in Toronto.
"The following week in Cincinnati, it was tough. I played a lot of tough three-setters, long matches, late matches. Now I feel like whatever. If it's day or night, you have to be able to manage both anyways, so I'm ready for both. Clearly always like playing night sessions here, but then again, as long as I keep winning, it doesn't really matter."