He is not moving freely. He is hurting. But he is winning. It is Roger Federer, after all. The six-time Wimbledon champion moved gingerly through to a quarter-final meeting with Mikhail Youzhny of Russia, beating Xavier Malisse of Belgium, 7-6 (1), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 on a cold and windy Centre Court yesterday.
His ease of passage was severely compromised by a back injury that forced him off court in the first set and visibly hampered him throughout the match. The world No.3 tried to make light of the issue after the match but it was obvious he was not moving with his customary fleetness of foot and his serving speed was reduced by up to 20mph.
This was not enough to make Malisse a valid threat. At 31, his best days are behind him and his record against Federer now stands at 1-10. The Swiss player, too, has gifts that extend beyond his talent and his brilliant shot-making. Federer is a perennial champion and his specialist subject is to find ways to win, whatever the circumstances.
He paid for a lack of aggression against Julien Benneteau, dragging himself back into a match that seemed beyond him in the third round. Yesterday he conserved his energy, kept his head and produced enough Federer lite to befuddle Malisse in two hours 11 minutes. He has reached his 33rd consecutive grand slam quarter-final.
Federer compiles extraordinary statistics, yet this may be the most stunning. Only five other men have even played the past 33 grand slams: Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, Tomas Berdych and Albert Montanes. Yet Federer has progressed to the last eight of every major for more than eight years.
This takes wonderful strokes, peerless grace and unbreakable will. It also needs a strong, resilient body.
Federer, of course, has played through injury so it is reasonable to suppose yesterday's ailment was particularly troublesome. "I felt the back going at the beginning of the first set, and then I played on it maybe three, four games. I asked for the trainer, the doctor to come out to just talk about it. So I decided to have treatment inside.
"I guess it must be a mix of maybe the five setter [against Benneteau], the two days off and the cold wind today. So I guess it was unlucky in this regard."
Federer took painkillers after his treatment and said his back was already "a way better". He is scheduled to face Youzhny tomorrow. "Honestly I'm not too worried. I've had bad backs over the years. I've been around," he said. "They go as quick as they came. But of course I have to keep an eye on it now. I have one and a half days, which is a lot of time, to be quite honest, to work with. Two good nights' sleep and I'll be 100% on Wednesday."
The winner of 14 grand slams has a history of back pain and pulled out of the Doha tournament in January. His aches may be eased at the prospect of playing Youzhny. His record against the 30-year-old Russian is a cure for most pain. From Stockholm in 2000 to Halle last month, Federer has played Youzhny 13 times. He has won the lot.
This is Youzhny's first appearance in the Wimbledon quarter-finals, beating Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in a tight match, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 7-5, but the Russian, ranked No.39, now has to play his nemesis for a place in the semi-finals.
He could have been forgiven for lying down in a darkened room at this prospect but instead he faced the press with a blithe attitude that belied a dreadful past.
"First of all it's good for me that I have one more chance against a great player, one of the best players in the world," said Youzhny. "I understand that a new match is like a new life. I try to do all my best and I don't think about what happened previously."
Youzhny talked valiantly about the possibility of Federer offering him chances and the necessity of taking those opportunities. However, he was understandably vague about his tactics, presumably because 13 gameplans have gone awry.
"I cannot say anything more about that right now," he said. "I don't want to talk now how I will play, what happens against Federer, because I have played many times against him. I never beat this guy. So just now I can't talk like about my dreams, what I have to do on court to beat Roger."
There was a moment when he was asked to define the greatness of his next opponent. "Federer is Federer," he said. He is all of that. And something more, too.