Purple shirts, pink laces, casual gear and stripy haircuts. These were merely incidental observations on a night that ended in another lesson dealt by Roger Federer.
The 31-year-old world No.2 continues to look as unruffled by life as ever, making his way into the 35th second week of his 53rd consecutive Grand Slam with a 6-4 7-6(5) 6-1 over Bernard Tomic in the third round, his 250th major match win.
The only hint of Federer’s age and stage of his career was the white thermal vest he treated the crowd to a view of, presumably one of the ways in which he protects his sometimes troublesome back. Especially in the cooler temperatures of a night match.
But other than that, Federer was the Swiss supremo of old, the level of his tennis as good as it as ever been as he cast his habitual spell over Melbourne’s centre court.
“Obviously, the result is something I was hoping for, but not sure going into it,” Federer said. “So I’m just really pleased that the outcome is what I was hoping for. I thought I played really good today.”
Tomic had talked a good talk in the build up to this match. The Australian youngster had hit form just in time to try and do better than the eight games he got against Federer this time last year.
“He is the greatest our sport’s ever had,” Tomic said. “You learn something every time you watch him. It’s going to make me a better player.”
But, having given himself a new haircut seemingly just for the occasion, the future of Australian tennis had just about the worst possible start. He was broken. It was all that Federer needed to take the first set, producing an ace, a forehand, and forcing two errors.
Tomic admitted afterwards that listening to the long list of Federer’s achievements being read to the crowd at Rod Laver Arena before the match was a distraction.
“I started to think after they mentioned all these Grand Slams leading up, Wimbledon champion seven times, US Open champion ... I was, ‘oh crap, it’s Roger’. I try to block out who’s on the other side of the net but couldn’t quite do it after that announcement,” he said.
Federer’s serve was not quite firing as fast as it can, the top speed of 207km/h the same as Serena Williams produced in her match on Saturday. But he won 88 per cent of points when he found his spot in the box, while 46 winners to Tomic’s 42 and 20 unforced errors to Tomic’s 41 were numbers that spoke for themselves.
Tomic, to his credit, upped the ante in the second set. Although the Rod Laver Arena crowd were as much behind the four-time champion as they were backing him, he clung onto his serve, forcing a tie-break, and, lo and behold, led the champion 4-1 and 5-2. The set was surely in the bag.
“I think close to the end of the second set was amazing tennis from both sides,” Tomic said. “We were striking the ball so good, hitting winners of any shot on the court.”
But many players have fallen foul of thinking they have leaped the hurdle against Federer, only to see him knock it down. Arguably the greatest player in men’s tennis snuck his way back in, not letting Tomic win another point. It crushed the cheekiness out of the Aussie.
“Unfortunately he got me,” Tomic said. “I had a chance there and I missed it.”
It was one-way traffic in the third set, Federer accelerating into a 3-0 lead, skipping into his forehand as he had done 10 years earlier, and allowing Tomic just one game.
“I had to be able to bring my whole repertoire to the court today, defence and offense, which I enjoy. Then when you do win those kind of matches, it’s a good feeling afterwards,” Federer said.
Beaming brilliantly as he saluted the crowd, Federer advanced, barely a bead of sweat on his brow, to a fourth-round meeting with Milos Raonic. Another match-up between past and present, champion and future champion.
But can Raonic do what Tomic could not? Based on tonight, it’s unlikely.
“He’s obviously got one of the best serves in the game,” Federer said. “We’ll see how it goes. I’m excited about the match anyhow.”
As for Bernard? He’ll be out cheering on his sister Sara in the juniors. And then, it’ll be back to the practice court, Federer’s words ringing in his ears.
“He said ‘keep going, you improved’. It’s a good thing, hearing that from somebody that’s giving some advice,” Tomic said.
“You know you can become a better player when you get information off the world’s best. I’ve improved a lot. But to become someone like him, even in that area, I’ve got to improve more.”