It began with the destruction of French 23-year-old Benoit Paire in the opening round, and reoccurred when he faced 20-year-old Bernard Tomic and dealt out a straight-sets drubbing in round three. Tonight it was 22-year-old rising star Milos Raonic, who was handled in near-identical fashion to the young Aussie.
Roger Federer has seemed intent on putting the youngsters in their place at Australian Open 2013, and has shown no mercy in dispatching a raft of pretenders to the throne nearly 10 years his junior.
The world No.2’s 6-4 7-6(4) 6-2 victory on Monday night sent him into an astounding 35th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal, and saw him book a final-eight date with seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who, notably, has previously beaten Federer in a major quarterfinal. But given Federer’s form, and the fact the Frenchman gives away four years in age to the Swiss, Tsonga appears next in line to incur the wrath of the four-time Australian Open champion.
Federer brushed off any suggestion of being extra motivated when he faced a young talent, but admitted it did add some spark to his performance.
“Maybe five years ago (I did). Today I'm in a different place myself. I just try to go out there and play my best, regardless if they're young or not,” he said.
“I get a lift, as well, in terms of energy playing against those kind of guys. But I don't try to hit harder or intimidate them … I really just try to beat them. That's the only thing.”
During the Tomic match, one commentator remarked that the Australian’s vastly-improved serve was still unable to hurt Federer thanks to the Swiss’ canny ability to read huge bombs and block them back into difficult positions. Yet Raonic was somewhat of a different proposition serving-wise. Rarely do players clock speeds of 225km/h, but that’s exactly what the Canadian did when he served his way out of trouble after facing three break points in the sixth game.
Cool as a cucumber, Federer didn't react when those chances evaporated, instead waiting for another opportunity to present itself.
He didn’t have to wait long. At 30-30 four games later, the No.13 seed coughed up an uncharacteristic double fault to give the Swiss a set point, and Federer made him pay, blocking back the return, getting into the point, working the ball around and eventually forcing the volley error to pocket the opener in 33 minutes.
With the second set underway, both men began holding serve routinely. So routinely, in fact, that the monotonous regularity with which they did so resembled a pre-2002 Wimbledon serve-fest – little wonder the All England Club ripped up those lawns and planted a different variety of grass. Despite the closeness of the scoreline, little of the action was compelling.
That was until the inevitable tiebreak. The complexion of the set completely changed with just one point, on which Federer slotted a backhand passing shot to gain the mini-break for 4-3. Suddenly Raonic was helpless in the face of an onslaught – Federer smacked an ace up the T and then produced a scorching running forehand pass winner, screaming “Allez!” as he clinched a two-sets-to-love lead, committing just four unforced errors along the way.
“As the match went on, I started to feel better. But that's kind of normal. Like when you play a left‑hander again, you have to get used to that kind of speed or used to that spin,” Federer reflected.
“The first set for me was key. The second set he hung tough and pushed it to the breaker. You never know what happens then.”
What happened was that the Canadian had been severely rattled by the quick conclusion to the second set, and never recovered.
Raonic won just two more games as the second seed produced a third-set master-class, beginning with a service break to love in the very first game. Federer was soon toying with Raonic, dinking a sliced backhand which the Canadian volleyed into the net and breaking again for 3-0, sauntering to his chair looking fresh as a daisy while the red, sweaty Raonic trudged to his courtside seat.
Quickly down 0-4, Raonic finally got on the board in the fifth game, but only after avoiding the humiliation of blowing a 40-0 lead with a raft of double faults and errors that sent the game into a tense battle at deuce.
With the damage already done, Federer calmly saw out his final two service games, ripping an off-forehand winner on match point that Raonic never bothered to chase.
“Tonight was a very solid night, so I'm very happy,” Federer said.
“If I can maintain such a level of play … I give myself a chance of going deep in this tournament, which is obviously the goal.”
Federer and Raonic’s three previous meetings, all in 2012, went the distance. Yet tonight’s thrashing indicated that the second seed has something to prove. The Swiss may be a veteran, but boy, does he still have game.
His younger rivals – which is everybody left in the draw – had better watch out.