Roger Federer’s bid for a ninth Wimbledon title is still on just a month off his 40th birthday.
I'm in the third round, I'm really happy with my level right now. Today was special and I'm very happy with that Roger Federer
Federer defeated Richard Gasquet 7-6(1) 6-1 6-4 on Centre Court to reach the third round for the 18th time to seal a date with British No.2 Cameron Norrie on Saturday.
And the sixth seed revealed he is “happy with his level” in his 22nd All England campaign following long-term injury trouble.
He said: “It’s not the most important to feel your absolute best in the first and second round but what you really don’t want to do is go out because then you really have to look at everything and question yourself.
“I’m in the third round, I’m really happy with my level right now. Today was special and I’m very happy with that.
“It’s been a difficult year and a half in many ways for me with the knee surgery and rehab and everything – the initial goal was to come back for Wimbledon last year and that was never going to happen.
“This year it’s nice that I’ve made it. I tried everything I could these last few weeks and months.”
And the Swiss, with his country’s football also going for sporting glory in their Euro 2020 quarter-final the day before, joked about sharing the crowd’s affection with Norrie: “I’m happy for him that it’s going well but enough now – he needs to go out and I need to go through!”
He added: “I hope the crowd is going to get into it regardless of who they cheer for.
“I understand if it’s for him. And if it’s for me, it’s because of the last 20 years and all the big matches I’ve played here.
“Cam’s a good guy too – he’s had a wonderful year, he played great at Queen’s and he’s backing it up here again, so I know it’s going to be a tough match.”
Federer, with the justified reputation for gliding through matches, struggled to find a smooth rhythm at the start. Perhaps it was because he had only played ten matches in 19 months after knee surgery.
The eight-time title holder had faced a possible first-round exit for the first time since before he began winning Grand Slams against Adrian Mannarino, before the Frenchman slipped, damaged a knee and retired.
It mattered not that the Swiss held an 18-2 advantage over Gasquet in their head-to-head. That his opponent had not taken a set off him in ten years. That Federer had a 17-match unbeaten run against French players.
He was dealing with the here and now and trying to push himself to reach the level we all know and love. The level that has brought him 20 Grand Slams.
Federer’s tale draws parallel with Britain’s two-time champion Andy Murray who has been trying to get back up to his top level at the Championships after long-term injury.
And you wondered whether Federer could follow Murray into the third round.
He hung in, despite serving second, to survive break points in the first set to take the showdown between two exponents of the one-handed backhand to a tiebreak.
There had been nothing to chose between the sixth seed and the former world No.7, but Federer stepped it up in the shoot-out and won it with the loss of just one point, with Gasquet double faulting for the Swiss to hit the front.
Federer went up another gear and more in the second set with his 35-year-old opponent on the ropes.
And he broke the Frenchman once to seal the match in 1hr.51min.
Norrie, who had overcome Aussie wild card Alex Bolt, said: “”It will be special to play Roger Federer. Another opportunity to get out on the court. If there’s a time to play Roger, now’s the time I guess, but he’s still a decent player.”