Federer and Murray through after straightforward wins
The home fans in Melbourne were dreaming of an upset when Bernard Tomic faced Roger Federer in round three of the Australian Open.PT0M0S 620 349
The first game of Saturday night's bill-topper at Melbourne Park would have told you everything and nothing about what ensued.
Australian wunderkind Bernard Tomic had lost his serve just once in seven previous matches this season, but in this prologue Swiss wundermeister Roger Federer broke it as unfussedly as if peeling a banana. Even as the last rays of daylight slanted into Rod Laver Arena, a shiver ran around it. For Tomic, this would be Gulliver all over again, a giant in Lilliput in one chapter, dwarfed in Brobdingnag, the land of the giants, in the next.
But by the time Federer broke Tomic's serve again at the start of the third set, the lanky Queenslander had lifted Federer to a new high, or rather an old high, and fans were too enthralled for partisanship. The point that created the break was a defensive masterpiece, akin to an undermanned football team resisting a siege on its goal, then spinning away to score at the other end. Now even the squadrons of yellow-shirted Australian dogmatists stood to hail the man they had come to see brought low.
Like clockwork ... Federer was at his sublime best. Photo: Pat Scala
Or not. Federer occupies such a sainted place in the sporting pantheon he could move to Melbourne and play for Collingwood and still no one could find it in themselves to barrack against him (Lance Armstrong could only be an umpire). Australian Luke Saville hit up with Federer two hours before the match, but when asked who he would like to win replied: "I'd better not say."
In truth, one of Tomic and Federer, the hope of the age and the champion for the ages, had to lose, but tennis aficionados could not, and that was how it felt at the end.
After the preliminary, Federer and Tomic played as equals and alikes, at least for two sets. Federer is Tomic's hero, and as he grows in stature and standing in the game, he continues to flatter him by imitation. Neither depends exclusively on power – the soft but sweet pock of the ball on their racquets tells you that – nor does either slog away from the baseline in the modern manner.
Rather, they play with craft and knowing. Tomic deceived Federer regularly with his wide serve. But Federer's serve stands the test of time; he has not lost it yet in this tournament, and on Saturday had to save just one break point against it. Tomic sometimes caught Federer flat-footed, a rare happening these past 10 or 12 years. Tomic used Federer's forehand to hit more forehand winners than Federer, an omen for the 10 or 12 years to come.
The second set was perhaps the best in any match in this tournament yet. Federer chiselled out six chances to break Tomic's serve, but could not make any of them good, and when Tomic stole to a 4-1 lead in the tie-breaker, the outline of a classic could be discerned. Then Federer reached within, to a place few know, and won six of the next seven points, and the set.
The last set was a formality; Inside two hours, Federer had reasserted tennis's natural order and put a finish to the Australian offensive without offending a single Australian. Last year when they met, Federer and Tomic looked from different leagues. This time, they looked merely at different stages.
Federer, gent that he is, happily indulged the all-about-Tomic motif. "Bernard had a great game, and really got the best out of me tonight," he said. "He'll be tough to beat in the future, that's for sure." Federer's vocation is to travel the world and beat local favourites without ever losing favour for himself. "It's not my favourite part of the sport, beating the home heroes," he said. And yet he does it so charmingly.