"He's got that aura around him. Today he hit that shot between the legs. He hit some amazing passing shots, hit some half-volleys. He hits shots that other guys don't hit. You know, you want to go over and give him a high-five sometimes, but you can't do that."
LONDON -- Roger Federer is playing tennis like a man with a chip on his shoulder. This being Roger Federer, it isn't really obvious, because Federer is toting that chip as gracefully and lightly as he seems to do everything else. Admit it, wouldn't you like to catch that headband he flings into the crowd after every win, just to check whether it's even damp?
But it's there all right -- the sense that he's on a mission. It's there in those forehands he cracks like a man snapping a bullwhip, there in the serve that he discharges with both feet 18 inches off the ground and there in the uncharacteristically gruff exclamations he spits when he wins a critical point.
You would think that at age 33, with 17 Grand Slam titles on his resume, with two sets of lovely twins and enough money to put them through college -- heck, even medical school! -- he would be in a mellow mood about his golden years in tennis. But that might not be the case.
Federer could have a bone to pick. He could have a little unfinished business in tennis, in the form of a well-guarded inner determination to win at least one more Grand Slam title. There's an excellent, untold reason for this: It would justify all the diligent effort he keeps putting in, all the sheer excellence he's sustained since he last won one (that was here in 2012) and the frustration he must have felt after coming up short in a number of very close calls.
Federer is, after all, still No. 2 in the world. And he isn't the kind of man who's going to think a high ranking is its own reward.
And guess what? One of the most painful of those close calls occurred right here at SW19 a year ago, when Federer lost the final to Novak Djokovic in five sets after the Swiss appeared poised for victory by roaring back to win the fourth. Players, especially elite, are masters at wiping the hard drive clean after taking a bad loss, but can it be Federer has come to London this year to claim something that barely escaped his grasp last year?
"I would think no," Querrey said afterward, "But I have no idea. I mean, if I'm trying to put myself in his shoes, which I can't really do -- he's accomplished so much and won so many of those matches. You can't have ultimate perfection. So he's not going to win them all. I don't think those [big losses] would stay with him, but maybe they do."
"Today was definitely a good day," said Federer, who hit 32 winners and made just 10 unforced errors while winning 71 percent of his serve points. "I don't rate performances like that. Across the board I was rock-solid -- I'm happy."
Happy, perhaps, but not entirely satisfied.
"I'm as determined as ever," Federer said. "Last year was a great tournament; it was tough not getting it at the end. One year goes by and here you are again, hopefully playing better than last year."
After Thursday's performance, it's definitely better.