NEW YORK — Excuse our foray deep into the cliché well, but for Roger Federer and Serena Williams, that was just what the doctor ordered.
The two uberlegends—combined Grand Slam singles titles: 43—both dropped their opening sets to players outside the top 100 on Wednesday, sending an unseasonal shiver through their adoring fans inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Both sought cleaner performances on a balmy, late-summer Friday in New York. Both got exactly what they wanted, and now they’re through to the fourth round of the U.S. Open after comfortable straight-set victories.
After laboring through his first two matches of the tournament, Federer cruised to a crisp smashing (6-2, 6-2, 6-1) of Britain’s Dan Evans that took just 79 minutes. Williams followed with a similarly commanding showing, dispelling Karolina Muchova 6-3, 6-2 in 75 minutes.
The first match of the day wasn’t so much a contest as a clinic. Federer made his intentions known from the onset, coming in frequently and fruitfully on Evans’ slice backhand and limiting the errors that plagued him in those earlier matches. He won 26 of his 37 points at net, often doing so with stylish drop volleys, the prettiest of which gave him double break-point in the first set.
He closed out the first set in a brisk 27 minutes. What a difference from the first set on Monday night, which he dropped to Sumit Nagal, who until then had never won a set in an ATP-level match, let alone a Grand Slam. Wednesday’s opener might have been worse—he “donated,” as he put it, the set to Damir Dzumhur by playing uncharacteristically sloppy tennis.
“You almost tend to forget what happened and you move forward,” Federer said of the slow starts. “I actually can go through three sets in a row playing really good tennis. You know, I showed that also in the last couple of matches.”
The second and third stanzas against Evans were as straightforward as the first, with Federer jumping out to early breaks in each and never looking the slightest bit stressed.
You feel for Evans, who had his second-round match rained out Wednesday and thus had to play a grueling four-setter yesterday that didn’t finish until roughly 4 p.m…and then return for the first match of the day session in Arthur Ashe. But you also get the sense a perfectly rested Evans wouldn’t have fared much better given Federer’s form on the day.
“He played basically error-free tennis, I thought,” Evans said. The winners, on the other hand, flowed. At least for Federer—he pounded 48 of them, while Evans managed only seven.
Next up for Federer will be either No. 17 David Goffin, who earned a victory in three tight sets over Pablo Carreno Busta. Should he win that match—Federer holds an 8-1 advantage in their nine previous meetings—he'd face an unseeded player in the quarterfinal, as No. 7 Kei Nishikori lost to unseeded 20-year-old Alex de Minaur earlier in the day.
Williams was next up, returning to the court where 17-year-old Caty McNally gave her a genuine scare on Wednesday night. Williams and Muchova traded three holds each until the 23-time major champion ripped off seven games in a row to take the match by the throat. There was a slight hiccup in the final set, when Muchova scored her only break of the match to get back on serve at 2-3, but Williams broke in the very next game and would not drop another game the rest of the match.
She was not particularly close to her best; her serve lacked pop and her 20-17 winners-to-unforced errors ratio falls short of satisfactory. Williams certainly has another gear to reach, ideally against No. 22 seed Petra Martic in her next match.
Still, what she had today was enough to earn a timely victory, avoid spending hours in the heat and, most importantly, get home to see a special someone.
“I actually prefer playing during the day,” she said in her on-court interview after the match. “because I get to go home and actually spend time with my daughter.”