There was a moment in Roger Federer’s win against Damir Dzumhur here on day three of the US Open when the Bosnian underdog lost whatever sympathy the crowd afforded him as he turned on the umpire, Eva Asderaki-Moore, and barked: “When I ask you a question, you answer me OK?”
Asderaki-Moore said nothing. Dzumhur chuntered on. Much good it did him, as Federer recovered from 0-4 in the first set to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 in 2hr 22min under the roof on Arthur Ashe.
Inexplicably, play was suspended on the unsheltered courts during a brief window of dryness and delayed further when it drizzled again in late afternoon. So the chance to squeeze in some play came and went like a cloud.
More worrying than dim-witted scheduling is the continued verbal assault on officials. These churlish and offensive outbreaks – routine behaviour for decades and hitting a peak this year – do not fit with what would be regarded as civilised behaviour in most other areas of social discourse and the sense of entitlement of some players is breathtaking.
It should not matter what the grievance is; to speak with such curtness to someone who is powerless to respond – except by censure – is out of order. Whatever Nick Kyrgios thinks, he is not the only bad boy in class. The schoolyard is full of them.
To Federer’s credit, the best behaved man in sport ignored the minor spat across the net, as well as a rousing start by the gifted Dzumhur, to cruise stylishly into the third round. He will be mildly concerned, however, that, for the second time in three days, he has lost the first set to a rank outsider, to the elegant Indian strokemaker Sumit Nagal in round one and this time against Dzumhur before regaining his composure in the second set.
When he did get back on song, he made the sweetest music with his racket. Federer had a pliant audience in fits of ecstasy time and again, memorably in the third set when he found a backhand from heaven, wide in the tramlines, that cut across Dzumhur’s charge at the net like a scimitar, landing gently beyond his reach.
Dzumhur, 99 in the world but better than that, was struggling in all sorts of ways, demoralised now after correctly imagining at the start of the match that he might pull off the upset that was beyond Nagal on Monday night.
In the third set, he was refused a medical timeout when he complained of breathing difficulties and while that cannot have helped his disposition he got back on serve and aced Federer to cut the lead back to 2-4.
Dzumhur, a talented player who dropped outside the top hundred in August for the first time in four years, has suffered with various complaints in a summer of mixed fortunes: he has made three quarter-finals, beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in Rotterdam and Stan Wawrinka in Geneva, before injuries to his back, abdomen and shoulder from Miami to Halle struck him down.
If you’re not fully fit against Federer, you’re toast.
Dzumhur soon had the trainer back on court to look at a pain under his ribs, unable to articulate in English exactly what he thought the problem was – but he carried on. He does not lack for heart, although he continued to rant to nobody in particular, holding for 3-5, his movement and serve as efficient as it was at the start.
Federer tidied up the set and forged on to finish the job and said of his slow start: “Again, very similar to the last one. I just tried to make fewer errors. It took me some time, but I was able to protect my serve after a sloppy first set. There were some big moments at the beginning of the second, end of the third. I told myself to buckle down and not get broken, stay tough.”
He was glad of the roof, as well. “Indoors is very similar. A bit cooler. It feels really nice. It was a pleasure.”
Asked why he urges himself on in three languages – English, Swiss-German and German – he said: “I really don’t know. It just comes out.” Stumped at last.
“I don’t think there’s a secret, per se, to a good start. You just go back to the drawing board and try to do all the things well. It’s just frustrating. I can only do better moving forward.
“I got exactly what I expected from both guys. I didn’t expect to hit nearly 50 unforced errors. I have to play better in the next one.”