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Back injury fails to halt Federer's progress

Roger Federer takes an injury time out during the first set of his fourth round match against Xavier Malisse.
by Ron Atkin
Monday 2 July 2012

Roger Federer, who will be 31 next month, fought off the effects of back trouble to reach the quarter-finals at the 2012 Championships by defeating 31-year-old Belgian Xavier Malisse 7-6, 6-1,4-6, 6-3 in 2hr and 11mins.

His reward is a match against another player in the 30-and-over age bracket doing well at Wimbledon this year, Russian Mikhail Youzhny.

Five men aged 30 or older made it into Monday’s fourth round and, as Federer pointed out, "It is a good generation. I think back 10 years ago when we were all coming through. My junior year back in 1998 was unbelievable. Almost everyone I played in almost every match back then made it on tour after that".

Federer paid tribute to the skills and sportsmanship of fellow over-30 Malisse, who had to sit on a cold and windswept Centre Court for six minutes after the seventh game of the opening set while the six-times champion went off to have his back problem assessed and treated.

"I apologised to him after," Federer said. "Not that I had anything to do with it, but it is hard to play somebody who is injured, so obviously it was hard to get any sort of rhythm."

Federer said he felt his back going at the beginning of the match. "So I asked for the trainer and doctor to come out just to talk about it, and I decided to have treatment inside. I guess it was a mix of my five-setter [against Julien Benneteau in the third round] and two days off and the cold wind today. Now it feels better than a few hours ago but I'm not too worried. I've had bad backs over the years. They go as quick as they come."

The bearded Malisse, who had spent the waiting time wrapped in a Wimbledon club towel, did not appear concerned and gave his supporters a lift by breaking serve to lead 6-5 when a subdued Federer netted a weak forehand. However, serving for the set proved too much for the Belgian, and he fared disastrously in the subsequent tie-break, collecting only one point. On the last point of that tie-break Malisse fell on the baseline and he too called for the trainer for treatment to his left knee, which was already bandaged.

Play was then suspended because of rain but the delay was not long and the decision was taken not to close the Centre Court roof. It turned out to be the correct decision, since there were no more hold-ups despite the forbidding nature of the weather.

"I was happy they kept it open because this is an outdoor tournament at the end of the day,” Federer said. “We don't want to play indoors all the time."

Clearly, the Swiss was also happy the second set went his way in just 24 minutes, though the prospect of getting off court quickly was dashed when Malisse broke serve in the first game of the third set and looked the more assured player for long spells. He twice came within a point of a second break, which would have put him 4-1 up, but in the end was content to serve out safely to take the set, at which point Federer left the court again, this time for a toilet break.

Things seemed to be going very much the Belgian's way as he rushed into a 2-0 lead when the fourth set got under way, but at this point Federer reminded himself who he is and what this tournament has meant to him over his virtual decade of success. And the winners began to flow again from the Swiss racket. He won six of the subsequent seven games, rounding off his afternoon with a crunching ace, his ninth.

Afterwards Federer paid tribute to his next opponent, Youzhny: "He's a great player, a great fighter." But not a great winner against Roger Federer, who leads their head to head 13-0.

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