I took the title “Professor Federer” from the Australian Open website; it just seemed so fitting that I had to smile when I saw it. This match was hyped from the day the draw came out – Bernard Tomic vs. Roger Federer, the local David vs. the Goliath of tennis. Both had to overcome 2 rounds before meeting each other but that didn’t stop the press from building it up as an eventuality. They had met a year ago, in Round 4 but in 2013, the Aussie-Swiss clash arrived a Round early, and for eager audiences, that was already a long enough wait.
Tomic was riding on a winning streak of 10 matches and feeling that the time to beat Federer had come. From all the sound bites he fed the hungry media, it seemed he was ready to spar with the legend – he would face him as an equal and not in awe. Federer the consummate professional lived up to his diplomatic Swiss background and continued to ooze class despite the constant barrage of “Well Tomic said…” questions. What he knew is what perhaps young Tomic and the media had forgotten – the stats.
Tomic was on a winning streak of 10 matches (including the Hopman Cup). He had won his 1st ATP title and had played 106 matches since being on tour, winning 54 of them. Federer also had a winning streak of 10 once upon a time, 10 consecutive Grand Slam Finals, that is. He has won 76 titles, played 1,078 matches and won 880 of them. If he were to win this much-talked about match, it would be his 250th win in Grand Slams. Yes that’s just Grand Slams, not a career total – that’s 880 remember? It would take multiple pages to record the Maestro’s accomplishments but suffice it to say, Federer has a ton of experience not just playing tennis, but playing tennis and winning. He’s been in countless of these situations before and had a quiet confidence in his demeanor leading up to this clash, in comparison to the bravado of his much younger opponent.
Fast forward to 7:00pm local time today and the atmosphere inside the Rod Laver Arena was electric. One could be forgiven for thinking this was the Open’s Final. Australia’s last player standing came out to a thunderous applause. And what shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, Federer’s entrance drew equal amounts of cheering as well. He was, after all, Australia’s most popular athlete.
Tomic won the toss and chose to serve, hoping to get ahead by using his much improved serve. Before he could blink, he gotten broken, Roger held his own game and all of a sudden, it was 2-0 Federer. Roger had 4 break-point opportunities in the first set but that first one was the only one he could convert, the young Aussie soon found his game and never let Roger in. Nonetheless, the Swiss held his own serves and dictated play, rushing Tomic at his own pace. In 34 minutes, Federer had taken the first set 6-4.
The second set was much more competitive. Yet again Federer’s break-point conversion rate or lack thereof, reared its ugly head. He had 6 break-point chances and failed to convert a single one. The set was deadlocked at 6-all and we headed to a tie-break. It looked signed and sealed for the Aussie as he was up 4-1. Federer took the next 2 points on his own serve to take it 4-3 and one could be forgiven for thinking that Tomic still had a chance. But in the way great champions can, After Tomic went up 5-3, Roger stepped it up a gear and took the next 4 points and the set; 7-6(7-5), 2 sets to love, Federer.
To lose the tie-break after being that close was bound to be difficult to handle and Tomic lost focus for a bit in the first service game of the third set. Lo and behold, he gifted Federer with 3 more break-points. And in true Federer style, he failed to convert them. But then, the 14th opportunity came along and, in what I think was the best rally of the match, a miracle occurred and Roger broke Tomic. After that, for the most part it was cruise control for Federer. Tomic won his next service game but by then the score was already 3-1. Whatever hopes there might have been, disappeared when at 4-1, Roger broke him again to go up 5-1 and serve for the set. The last game only took minutes and a clearly dejected Tomic could only half-heartedly stab at Roger’s shots as the Maestro wrapped up the set and the match in 118 minutes. 6-4, 7-6, 6-1 Federer. The overall stats are given below.
To be fair, Federer was a tad erratic at times. After serving so beautifully in his first 2 matches, he had 4 double faults in this match. His second serve was letting him down a bit in the first set but that gradually picked up. Yet again, the one concern I continue to have is his miserable break-point conversion rate which was in epic display today at only 19%. Other than that however, this truly was a masterclass. Roger displayed his arsenal of shots and the backhand in particular was firing beautifully. It’s my personal favourite shot of Federer’s and I was very pleased that he was able to show what angles this (increasingly rare) shot can create. Federer was aggressive as he always is and came to the net 30 times winning 26 of those points. Credit must be given to Tomic as well here, for he played aggressively too, which made for some high-quality tennis from both players especially in the second set.
In addition to offense Roger also displayed great defensive play guarding the baseline from corner to corner. And here I do want to draw attention to another point; not once was Federer’s fitness or stamina questioned, by commentators and viewers alike. I think it’s quite outstanding that for a 31 year-old with over 1000 matches in his body, for someone who is always talked about as playing past his expiry date, this never came up. And that’s because looking at Federer play today, I thought his movement was on par with his heyday AND with those other members of the top 4. Maybe it was the adrenaline of this match in particular, but the way Federer broke into a run or slid across to hit a cross-court forehand on the run, he did not look like a player past his prime. He looked comparatively stronger than 20 year old Tomic and showed how supreme an athlete he truly is.
I think when faced with young cocky upstarts whose claim to fame is not yet earned, the top players enjoy putting them in their place oh so comprehensively. Once upon a time in 2007, a mouthy teenager named Djokovic was given this very lesson Federer at the same venue after making such statements. That same Djokovic, now more mature, experienced and world number 1, showed 20 year old Ryan Harrison just 3 days ago how far he still has to go. And today the lessons continued. Federer taught Tomic not only how much more he still has to learn about tennis but also how to handle pressure, how to apply pressure and how to destroy him, the local hero, in front of a partisan crowd and still be loved by them. This is Roger Federer ladies and gentlemen, the man who just won his 250th Grand Slam match; and he’s nowhere near done. Strap on your seat belts, the Maestro is just getting warmed up.
*All photos have been taken from the Australian Open website.