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Roger Federer Rolls In Rotterdam Return • Beats Bemelmans In Less Than An Hour

Roger Federer of Switzerland in action against Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium during their first round match of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands, 14 February 2018. EPA-EFE/KOEN SUYK



By Richard Pagliaro


Playing beneath Rotterdam’s roof, a soaring Roger Federer launched his quest to shatter tennis’ glass ceiling.


A finely-tuned Federer burst through 16 of the first 18 points rocketing by Belgian qualifier Ruben Bemelmans, 6-1, 6-2, in a resounding Rotterdam return.


The 46-minute master class was Federer’s first match since he subdued Marin Cilic to capture his record-extending 20th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. He competed with the urgency of a man closing in on a desired destination.


The second-ranked Swiss now stands two wins from surpassing rival Rafael Nadal and regaining the world No. 1 ranking for the first time since November 4, 2012.


Straddling the baseline, Federer showed impeccable timing dissecting his 30-year-old opponent with an assortment of spins and speeds. Federer was nearly untouchable on serve, winning 32 of 36 points played on his serve, and even unleashing an over-the-shoulder circus shot recalling the young Mansour Bahrami late in the match.


The 36-year-old Swiss continues to take advancing age on the rise.


If Federer, who is 12-0 against round of 16 opponent Philipp Kohlschreiber, reaches the Rotterdam semifinals he will attain a milestone as the oldest man to reign as world No. 1. Andre Agassi has held the record as the oldest top-ranked man in history since he reached No. 1 at age 33 years and 131 days in 2003.


Spending 302 weeks as world No. 1 has not diminished the Swiss’ taste for the top. A semifinal berth will seal Federer’s return to the top and secure another record for longest stints between stays at No. 1—14 years.


“It would be absolutely incredible,” Federer said. “I can’t believe I’m this close.”


The two-time Rotterdam champion (2005 and 2012), started his quest for a 97th career title in confident style.


Bemelmans won the toss and elected to receive in an effort to quiet jitters before a packed crowd.


Seeing Federer stick a backhand off the line then follow a slashing slice forward for double break point was unsettling for the 116th-ranked qualifier.


Even when he closed the gap, Bemelmans sometimes paid a bruising price.


Streaking forward, Federer scraped a forehand get that sparked a nose-to-noset net dueling ending with Federer banging a high backhand volley off Belemans’ rib cage.


Slashing a backhand winner down the line, Federer sealed a 66-second love hold for 3-0.


The fluidity of Federer was on display with a series of running strikes. Flicking a running backhand that befuddled Bemelmans, Federer broke again in the fourth game, streaking through 16 of 18 points.


Banging an ace out wide, Federer extended to 5-0. Sixteen minutes into the match, Bemelmans got on the board eliciting appreciative applause from fans.


Serving precision sealed a one-set lead after just 18 minutes. Federer streaked through his service games and tormented his opponent’s first serve winning 67 percent of Bemelmans’ first-serve points.


In full express mode, the wild card served 70 percent, won 12 of 14 first-serve points, and snapped five aces in a near flawless set that saw Federer display the full shot spectrum. From caressing the low chip approach to cranking the high flat backhand drive down the line, Federer elegantly obliterated the lanky lefty’s efforts to target his backhand.


To his credit, Bemelmans worked his way to net nullifying a pair of break points to open the second set, but was handcuffed by a low half volley for a third break point. An errant backhand saw Bemelmans drop serve for the third time to start the second set.


Playing his most proactive game of the match, the Belgian fended off a pair of break points holding in the third game. Federer answered with a love hold before Bemelmans banged his third ace holding for 2-3.


Even when pushed on the defensive, Federer had an audacious answer. Racing with his back to net, Federer snapped a fantastic over-the-shoulder forehand that set up a blistering backhand in the sixth game.


Firing a forehand pass, Federer snatched his sixth break for 5-2.


It was a complete all-court performance that saw Federer drill some tremendous running strikes, close net with conviction and even show the serve-and-volley on occasion.


Federer snapped off a smash to close a 46-minute clinic in front of a full house, including tournament director Richard Krajicek who recruited the reigning Wimbledon champion for what could be a historic Rotterdam run.

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