Roger Federer rolls back the years to reach 18th Wimbledon quarter-final

If there was more than a hint of vulnerability about Roger Federer when he began his campaign at this year’s Wimbledon, it is fading fast. The 39-year-old defeated the world No 27 Lorenzo Sonego of Italy 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals for the 18th time and although the world No 1, Novak Djokovic, remains a seemingly immovable object blocking his path to a record ninth Wimbledon title, the Swiss is beginning to look ominously good once more.

Six days after he was lucky, in his own words, to survive his first-round match when the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino had to retire through injury when leading two sets to one, Federer showed the 26‑year‑old Sonego the benefit of all his experience as he marched into the last eight. Just over 20 years after his famous fourth-round win against the then champion Pete Sampras, Federer is still going strong with a 105th win on the grass of the All England Club in the bag and his title hopes well and truly alive.

“I’m extremely happy,” said Federer, who plays either the second seed Daniil Medvedev or the Polish 14th seed Hubert Hurkacz, whose match was held over until Tuesday, with the Russian leading by two sets to one but down 4-3 on serve in the fourth. “Again, tricky conditions inside and outside against Lorenzo, who’s always dangerous. But I felt after the first set I controlled things. I couldn’t be more excited to be in the quarters, it’s a big moment.”

Eight times the champion here, it should be remembered that what Federer is doing, at the age of 39, is little short of remarkable. Not only is he one month short of his 40th birthday, an age when tennis players are usually long retired, he is back after two knee surgeries in 2020 and a rehabilitation that was harder than he anticipated. Tied with Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slam titles, one clear of Djokovic, should he somehow manage to win the title again, 18 years after his first, it would surely be his biggest achievement of all.

In Halle last month he looked short of match practice as he was beaten by Felix Auger-Aliassime, the manner of his defeat more worrying than the loss itself, Federer admitting that he had lost his way, mentally, as the match wore on. Since the escape against Mannarino he has grown in confidence, begun to move far better and looked like the old Federer. He came to the net 46 times, winning 29 of them and even chipped and charged at times, a novelty in this age of power.

The only time Federer looked remotely vulnerable was late in the first set, when he broke for 4-3 only to then fail to serve out the set at 5-4. In a marathon 11th game Sonego saved three break points but Federer forced a fourth when the match was stopped because of rain. After about a 20-minute break for the roof to be closed, Sonego served a double-fault. Serving for the set for a second time at 6-5, Federer faced two break points at 15-40 but saved the first with a forehand winner, the second with a good serve and then closed it out.

The two men had met once before, at the French Open in 2019, when Federer had won in straight sets. Sonego has come a long way since then, rising from 74 to 27 in the rankings, one of 10 Italian men inside the world’s top 100. He was enjoying his outing on Centre Court and even whipped up the crowd at times, perhaps not immediately realising that many were wearing RF shirts and hats.

Federer broke for 3-2 in the second set and held the advantage to go up two sets to love, a margin that allowed him to relax even further. The Swiss broke immediately to open the third set and then repeated the feat two games later, treating the crowd to some trademark flashes of genuine brilliance.

With every year, Federer sets new records. He is now the oldest man to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, beating the record held by Ken Rosewall in 1974. That was the year that the Australian reached the final for the fourth time in his career, only to be denied the title by a rampant Jimmy Connors.

Djokovic remains the man to beat but with Federer’s quarter-final opponents having been held over, few would bet against the Swiss making it through to the final yet again. “You’re not happy about it,” he said, when asked if it was good for him that Medvedev and Hurkacz will have to resume on Tuesday.

“It’s not fair, though. But I’ve been in those conditions many times before. These guys are young, they can recover, it’s not a problem for them. Unfortunately they’re very, very good too. Hopefully it rains again tomorrow. Only joking.”