The Swiss third seed breezes past the Italian dropping just six games

“However many men one kills he can never kill his successor,” said Seneca, and while it isn’t known if Roger Federer’s taste in philosophy tends to Stoicism, there’s a good chance he’s aware of the sentiment.

How can he not, given what he has gone through? There he was, winning nearly everything, all the time evoking in the watcher the feeling that no one before could possibly have played tennis so beautifully, so naturally, so imaginatively, when first Rafael Nadal and then Novak Djokovic displaced him, setting up their own empires.

Since Federer’s last great stretch — when he won the French Open and Wimbledon in 2009 and the Australian Open in 2010, after people had written him off — Nadal and Djokovic have established a duopoly, sharing the nine majors.

The big question

So the question that follows Federer is, can he win another Slam? The trouble answering it, of course, is that when Federer can make it about himself, an exhibition such as the one he put on against Fabio Fognini here at the Centre Court on Wednesday, he can’t be touched. The thing is Nadal and Djokovic don’t allow it; they force a contest on him.

And yet Federer exhibitions are watched and dissected. His 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 win in the second round of the 2012 Championships, while visually satisfying, raised a question. Many hold the view that, at least on faster courts, Federer must attack and approach the net more against the top two. He must make the play.

The question that suggested itself, from this match and the one against Albert Ramos in the first round, was, can he do it?

It seems preposterous — surely Federer, with all his talent, can do anything he wants to. But he doesn’t look comfortable doing it. Although he was at the net more often against Ramos, he served and volleyed just seven times against Fognini. On five of those occasions, he was ahead in the game, 15-0 or 30-0.

The other two times was at 0-15 after he had won the second set and love-all when he was leading 4-2 in the third.

During the rare instances he was in trouble, his instinct was to dictate play from the baseline when his first serve didn’t settle the matter outright.

The curious thing is that although he had success when he served and volleyed — he won six of the seven points — he wasn’t encouraged to continue it. Or head to the net on an approach more often.

Improvisation

Since he transitions from back to fore-court better than any top player in the modern game, perhaps the reason for his reluctance lies in his manner of volleying: not for him the short, functional block with a still racquet head; he likes to create at the net, often cutting under the ball to put spin and angle on it, and this isn’t something even he can do with consistent control against ground-strokes of quality.

It certainly explains his volleying errors against Ramos in the first round. Fognini had his moments on Wednesday, particularly when slapped his upright, nonchalant forehand — with no visible hip-rotation — just right.

But Federer, as he does against most of the field, had too much quality even when playing within himself.

Two passages shone slightly brighter than the rest because of the genius in improvisation: the first was a bunted backhand return that was past Fognini before he saw it; the second was when, at full stretch to his right,

Federer changed direction on the ball, on the rise, to curl it down the line.

Keywords: 2012 Wimbledon

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