Entering the match, some mystery surrounded the state of Federer’s back, which hampered him in the final of the Rogers Cup in Montreal and forced him to withdraw from the recent Cincinnati tournament. He was sloppy, committing 56 unforced errors, and struggled on his serve. He said after the match, though, that he felt fine.
The match capped a day on which rain had suspended play on the outside courts around 12:45 p.m. About three hours later, with persistent rain in the forecast, the tournament postponed all but one of the matches on outside courts. That left only matches played under the roof at Ashe Stadium on the schedule.
Federer’s longtime rival Rafael Nadal, the No. 1 seed, also had a few some shaky moments Tuesday but overcame them to defeat Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-2.
In a tournament missing several stars, including Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, all sidelined with injuries, the spotlight has intensified on the Federer-Nadal rivalry.
They have played each other 37 times dating to 2004. A dozen of those matches have been in Grand Slam events, but by a quirk of fate, none have been at the U.S. Open.