By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Roger Federer enjoyed a routine 6-3 6-2 6-1 win over Argentina's Carlos Berlocq in the second round of the U.S. Open on Thursday to stay on track for a mouthwatering early clash with Rafa Nadal.
'Routine' was greeted positively by Federer, the all-time leading grand slam singles winner with 17 titles, who is seeded seventh after slipping in the rankings while hampered by injury.
"It's one of those matches I expect myself to win if possible in straight sets and gain confidence in the process," the 32-year-old Swiss maestro said. "All those things happened, so I'm pleased about it."
The five-time U.S. Open champion needed just 95 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium court to dispatch the overmatched Berlocq and secure a spot in the third round.
Federer is on a collision course to meet world number two Nadal in the quarter-finals instead of the usual semi-final or finals stage where he most often has encountered the Spaniard.
But it has been a down year for Federer, who has been bothered by a back injury and notched just one tournament win.
He claimed the grass title at Halle over Michael Youzhny in a lead-up to Wimbledon, where the Swiss suffered a shock second-round ouster by Sergiy Stakhovsky.
"It hasn't been actually a terrible season up until Wimbledon really, and Wimbledon was just a disappointment," said Federer, who lost a five-set Australian Open semi-final to Andy Murray and denies he is in decline.
"I wish I could have played better, but I thought Stakhovsky overall played pretty well. Let's give him some credit.
"After that, I just really hoped I could win Hamburg and Gstaad back-to-back to gain confidence," said Federer, who lost in the Hamburg semi-finals and in his first match in Gstaad.
Yet Federer appears relaxed and said after his first-round, straight-sets U.S. Open win over Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania that he was as passionate as ever about tennis.
"For me it was just sort of like playing matches again, enjoying myself training really hard, and I really got the matches I was looking for in Cincinnati," said Federer, who lost there in the quarters to Nadal in his U.S. Open build-up.
"I'm still hopefully gaining confidence match by match.
"It might not just take a match but might take just a few matches, and next thing you know you're playing really, really good tennis again and you're close to playing some really great tennis," he said.
"I think that's kind of where I am right now, and that's where every match is really important to me now and that's how I play every single point right now."
While a Federer-Nadal clash in the quarters is awaited with great expectations, the Swiss veteran wants more than that.
"For me, one match against Rafa is not going to make my season or going to make me super confident or not," he said. "It needs to be more than that."
Federer will next play either 26th-seeded American Sam Querrey or Adrian Mannarino of France.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)