Now the match was on, and it was clear from the beginning that Federer considered Fritz dangerous. He had reason to. In that one and only meeting, in Stuttgart, Germany, in the summer of 2016, Federer had emerged victorious, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. Hardly smooth sailing. Federer seemed determined not to let Fritz get that close again.
So, from the start, Federer displayed the fullness of his range. There were sharp angles and booming drives. There were heavily spinning forehands followed by balls that cut flat against the hot air. It was a level of play Federer will need if he is to win this tournament for a third straight time, giving him seven overall.
“It’s been a long time since I have gotten a beat down like that,” Fritz told me, unspooling the entire experience once it was done. “It didn’t feel great, not at all.”
The first set took twenty minutes. Federer: 6-1.
In the second set, Fritz fared better. He began using the leverage from his 6-foot-4-inch frame. With Federer serving, Fritz nudged ahead in a key game. Federer responded with a pair of scorching forehand winners and a curveball ace.
“I get any of those points and I have a break point, a chance to break him and a chance to serve for the set,” Fritz said. There was resignation in his eyes. But also a glint of hope. “Look, with someone as good as Roger, you know that might be the only chance you get. I can see now that you have to take it.”
He certainly did soak up the moment. He loved every part of playing in front of a crowd that large. He tried a bit of showmanship, on one point faking like he was going down the line, then hitting crosscourt. Problem was, Federer caught up to the ball, responded with a fake of his own and hit a winner.
Fritz had been posterized.
“I tried to play with him,” he said, “and, well, he played me back.”
Then he spoke of his last stand. Of trying to simply survive. “Regroup, hold serve, hold serve” he said he kept telling himself, like a mantra.