Roger Federer vs. Bernard Tomic might be a match-up of the two most entertaining shotmakers in tennis today. Federer with the explosive flash and dash of his single-handed artistry; Tomic with his genius for disguise and ability to vary his ball-striking with methodical precision.
To the sugar of their talents on court, add the spice what appears to be a certain edginess in their relationship off court.
Before the tournament, Federer poured cold water on the talk of Tomic shooting up the rankings to the top 10. “Everyone wants to jump from – what’s his ranking 60? – in a year,” he said. “It’s hard to do. Ten is a big ask.”
And about the potential of an Aussie Open match-up with Tomic, Federer cautioned, “he will be making a mistake thinking about me in the third round because he also has to get there.”
The following day, Tomic got in a dig of his own about that possible third-rounder, saying, “well, if he gets that far.”
When the two crossed paths as Federer left, and Tomic entered, a practice court this week, there was at best a cursory greeting.
Any Tomic brashness is typical of many 20-year-olds, and not the first time an upstart has shown irreverence toward the mighty Federer in Australia. In 2007, before he played the then No. 1 in the Aussie Open round-of-16, Novak Djokovic boasted in a television interview that he would beat Federer. Final score – 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 for the old guy. Djokovic was 19 at the time.
Federer has won his three previous meetings with Tomic – including in four sets in 2011 Davis Cup in Sydney just days after landing in Australia after a grueling US Open, and last year one round further at Melbourne Park when he prevailed 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
The Swiss master looked in peak form in his first two matches and seems primed to try to give a lesson to a young gun like Tomic.
In the Australian’s favour is a vastly improved serve that will surely be key to his chances. He has dropped serve just once – Jarkko Nieminen in the Sydney quarterfinals – in his last seven matches.
“I’m serving the best I’ve ever been,” he said after a tough four-setter against Daniel Brands on Thursday. “I’m finally using the best of my height. It’s important to have a good serve at 6'4", 6'5". Now I’m serving really well and that’s why I’m winning a lot of matches.”
Other matches of note on Day Six include the all-French confrontation of showman Gael Monfils and straight-arrow Gilles Simon, as well as Milos Raonic’s raw power against the nifty Philipp Kohlschreiber.
In women’s action, there’s a cracker USA – Britain clash as up-and-comers Sloane Stephens and Laura Robson play for second time in two weeks. Stephens, 19, beat the 18-year-old Robson 6-4, 7-6(4) in Hobart. And Svetlana Kuznetsova, who went ‘walkabout’ for all of 2012 after Wimbledon, is back with a vengeance and faces Carla Suarez Navarro.
Serena Williams takes on Ayumi Morita. The younger Williams sister is playing such other-worldly tennis that maybe only The Fates can stop her. And they’re doing their best – with an ankle roll in her first round and a self-inflicted facial wound with her own racquet in the second.
TOM’S INTREPID TIPS
Stephens def. Robson in two. The American has the brute power to out-maneuver Robson, a Brit playing in the city where she was born.
Jovanovski def. Date-Krumm in two: Jovanovski, 21, is half Date-Krumm’s age but that won’t make her show any respect to someone her senior.
Kirilenko def. Wickmayer in three: The newly-engaged Russian (to ice hockey superstar Alexander Ovechkin) is playing a tad better than the sinewy Belgian.
Federer def. Tomic in three: Ten matches – all victories – since the start of the season are bound to finally catch up with Tomic as Federer outplays him early and often.
Simon def. Monfils in four: Bothered by an ongoing neck problem, Simon is still a healthier specimen than Monfils with his chronic knee woes.