LONDON -- Roger Federer has been an imperial force here at Wimbledon. He has challenged the conventional wisdom on the surface speed of the grass courts: "If you look at rally length, US Open is shorter rallies on average. That tells you the story a little bit."
He has also refused to wade into the muck of ATP politics: "We're on the second day of Wimbledon, and that is your last question about politics today," he told one reporter last week. "Other guys would like to talk about maybe forehands and backhands."
Federer also expressed sympathy for the young, talented players -- Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Alexander Zverev -- who were brought to the verge of tears when they were upset in the first round. "I come from that same [emotional] side," Federer said. "I would cry after losing matches. I just felt it was quite rough for them, which is not nice to see."
After the third round, he also endorsed the theory that he will be extremely difficult to beat at this tournament: "Of course, I hope it's going to take a special performance from somebody to stop me, not just a mediocre performance."
And why not blur the line between contender and elder statesman? At this stage, Federer can claim to be both. He can also nominate himself as the player most likely to pry Novak Djokovic's hands off the men's trophy after Federer's commanding fourth-round win over Matteo Berrettini -- a performance that all but dropped the curtain on a Wimbledon Monday that, on the men's side, was more mild than manic.
Among singles players, only Milos Raonic and Guido Pella were still on court when Federer finished, and it was only because Federer won in a blinding one hour and 15 minutes. Even those who picked Federer to halt the grass-court run of Berrettini, who entered the match 11-1 in the small grass-court window this summer, didn't expect him to win with such clinical savagery. If that's an oxymoron, so be it.
When it was over, Berrettini's coach, Vincenzo Santopadre, approached Federer in the locker room. "His coach congratulated me and thanked me, almost," Federer told reporters. "I was like, 'Why?' He was like, 'It's good for him to get a lesson.'"
Unlike a religious personage, Federer can't claim to derive his authority from some divine source. At Wimbledon, the 37-year-old is invested with that power by all those records he holds. Among the ones he set in recent days: most consecutive Wimbledon appearances (21), first player to win 350 Grand Slam singles matches and only player to reach the fourth round 17 times. Federer has faltered in that fourth-round quest just twice since making the quarterfinals for the first time in 2001.
What's more, Federer survived on each of those previous 16 occasions. He has mowed down, among others, Grand Slam champions Pete Sampras, Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Carlos Ferrero. The highest rankings among the 17 fourth-round rivals Federer has faced belonged to Sampras (No. 6, 2001) and Grigor Dimitrov (No. 11, 2017).
But Berrettini was a bit of a curveball, even if Federer hit it out of the park. This was Federer's first meeting -- a rarity these days -- with his opponent at such a critical stage. Berrettini's recent record, as well as that massive, 140 mph serve and explosive forehand, popped up like caution flags on Federer's path to a potential ninth Wimbledon title. No question that Federer was on full alert.
Berrettini had grown up idolizing Federer, so much so that he feared it might dampen his enthusiasm for beating the Swiss icon. "I kind of stop cheering for him when I saw his name and then my name in the draw," Berrettini said, referring to a recent Halle tournament in which both men were entered. "So it was, like, now I'm playing same tournament, so I cannot cheer for him."
That little pep talk was helpful, but not enough to keep Berrettini from freezing up on this long-anticipated occasion, losing 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. The 6-foot-5 Italian misfired from the start.
He put just 45 percent of his first serves into play. He committed 23 unforced errors (to Federer's five). He won just one point against Federer's serve in the first set, and six in the second. Federer won almost exactly twice as many points in the match (79-40). Berrettini's only real excuse: He complained about not seeing the ball well enough in the early evening overcast. Federer had no trouble seeing it, and walloping it.
"Of course, I hope it's going to take a special performance from somebody to stop me, not just a mediocre performance." Roger Federer
That last detail makes you wonder if Federer pays any price for being of an age when most of his peers have retreated to the commentary booths.
"Not really," he said. "I just think I have to warm up much more than I used to, which is not the most fun bit, to be honest." Federer explained that at 19, or 21, he warmed up by just "jumping up and down for a minute." Now, he undergoes a supervised, extensive ritual. "I'm like, 'Really, do we really have to do it?'" he said, then shrugged. "I guess it helps."
He also noted that "experience" is a great buffer against the ravages of age. He has played in all sorts of conditions and is perhaps more prepared than younger opponents for dealing with adverse circumstances.
"You look back at the French Open against Rafa -- how windy it was there," Federer said, referring to his semifinal loss to Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. "I've [also] played in dark conditions in Wimbledon, or in other places. When you're older, it doesn't really have a huge impact on you. [You realize] it's as hard on this side of the court like on the other. I think that's where maybe age helps you a little bit."
That seasoning only goes so far, though. It's no substitute for the laser-beam forehands, the pinpoint serve placement, the wicked slices that enable Federer to jerk opponents all over the court or lay the groundwork for a perfectly timed approach to the net. Ironically, it seems that the slower the grass courts get, the more effectively Federer attacks and pressures rivals.
"I think for sure I didn't play my best match," Berrettini said. "He was playing good, and I was kind of tight, also. I expected that. I was kind of ready for that [nerves] stuff."
Berrettini added that what he wasn't at all prepared for was Federer's breakneck pace. Federer was averaging about 15 seconds between point, which kept ratcheting up the pressure.
Unlike his own anxieties and shortcomings, Berrettini had absolutely no control over the Federer whirlwind. "You can try to change something, but when he's playing like this, it's tough to change," Berrettini said. "You can change mentally, but he's not gonna change anything."
Federer didn't really revel in his comprehensive demolition of a player who was considered a serious threat. His performance just left him feeling empathy for his rival -- and not just because of Berrettini's high regard for him.
"The guy is serving on average 130 miles, and second serve 105 or 110. He gets three aces," Federer said, a note of skepticism in his voice. "It's [the surface] just slow -- especially tonight, conditions were a bit cooler. If you're almost clocking 140 serves, you should be rewarded a little bit more, probably. There is definitely an issue with the speed of the balls or the speed of the courts."
They seemed plenty swift to Berrettini, who said: "The points were going, like, really fast. Just serve and first shot. I wasn't tired, so I [just] couldn't, I couldn't stop him."
Sixteen other men have said pretty much the same thing after their fourth-round encounters with Federer. It would have taken a special performance to keep that from coming to pass again. Instead, Federer got a mediocre one -- but his work is far from finished. No. 8 seed Kei Nishikori waits in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.