NEW YORK—Trudging through a thicket of heavy air, Roger Federer looked lost in a fog while his shots strayed into the alleys. A lethargic Federer lost 10 straight points to open his third-round match with Marcel Granollers, and the Spaniard stormed out to a 5-2 lead before a lightning storm caused a two-hour delay. When play resumed, Federer fell into a one-set hole and was one point from slipping down a break in the second.
One pulsating retrieval energized Federer for a run of all-court brilliance. After a sloppy start, Federer delivered his most dynamic tennis of the tournament, dismissing Marcel Granollers, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1, to reach the fourth round of the U.S. Open for the 14th straight year. Conditions created a strange atmosphere, and the attacking skills of both men—they combined for 87 trips to the net and played sharp angles and drop shots—created moments of throwback tennis reminiscent of Forest Hills' lawns.
The steamiest day of the event grew menacing as the pair walked out on court. White lights above Arthur Ashe Stadium bled into a darkening haze, a swirling wind whistled through the chair umpire's microphone, and local weather reports issued severe storm and flood warning alerts for the New York area. Struggling to tame his forehand in the swirl, Federer spit out four forehand errors in the opening game.
The 42nd-ranked Granollers doesn't hit the ball hard, but he can take it early. He buzzed through 10 straight points, winning 12 of the first 13 for a 3-0 lead. Tested for the first time on serve at 30-all, Granollers bent low for a sharp-angled forehand volley winner, eventually holding at love for 5-2. About 19 minutes after play began, tournament referee Brian Earley pulled the pair off court due to lightning strikes in the distance.
Play resumed about two hours and six minutes later, and this time Federer brought his forehand and some pop to the party. Zapping a cross-court forehand, he broke back for 4-5. But Federer played a miserable 10th game. His serve-and-volley effort didn't surprise Granollers, who spun a backhand pass down the line to conclude a bizarre set. At this point, with day-session ticket holders giving way to evening entrants, there were probably less than 2,000 fans scattered throughout the cavernous 23,771-seat Ashe Stadium.
Failing to convert three break points in the opening game of the second set, Federer denied a break point in the second game. An accomplished doubles player, Granollers used the drop volley through the first set and hit a fine dropper to open the third game. Then things changed. Exploding off the mark, Federer was streaking right at net when he flicked a stunning backhand get that incited the crowd and kick-started his game. He went on to break serve, sparking a run of eight straight games where he elevated his level to a place Granollers just couldn't reach.
Finding his opponent's sometime disjointed forehand, Federer drew the error, scoring his third straight break to level the match after 63 minutes of official play—and more than three hours after first ball. The run of eight straight games finally came to an end when as Granollers held for 1-3 in the third set.
Wearing a white towel around his neck, Granollers gazed at the court with the vacant expression of a man without answers. The lanky Barcelona native doesn't possess the power to hang with Federer from the baseline, and he lacked the legs to run down the winners streaming from the second seed's red-and-black Pro Staff. In breezing through the third set, Federer hit 17 winners to Granollers' two.
Despite the slow start and the fact he converted just nine of 20 break-point chances, Federer should be satisfied with the fact he turned up his game considerably, served with authority (13 aces, no double faults, won 56 percent of second-serve points), and finished with 57 winners against 27 unforced errors. The five-time U.S. Open champion faces another Spaniard, No. 17 seed Roberto Bautista Agut, for a quarterfinal spot.