Roger Federer: The David who was once a Goliath

Roger Federer showed the real definition of blitzkrieg to long-time rival, Tomas Berdych as he stormed into the fourth round with a vintage performance at the Australian Open 2017. The 17-time Grand Slam champion, seeded 17th after an injury-hit 2016, downed the 10th-seeded Czech 6-2, 6-4, 6-4, in just about 90 minutes.

Nobody could blame Tomas Berdych for the loss. It was Federer, the unprecedented master of tennis during his hay days, who decided to show the world what it was to be the player that he used to be. Berdych was visibly in awe of the maestro after the match as he was quoted as saying,

“It’s not so much fun; I would rather be in the stands watching than on the court. It’s just crazy how quick I got out of the blocks.”

Higher Forces at Work?

It would not be wrong to assume that no matter how much more power Berdych might have been able to generate at the Rod Laver Arena, there were higher forces somewhere working it out for the legend. There were doubts on Federer’s class —the obvious age catching up metric and to add to that, he hadn’t faced any player in the top 10 since he slipped up against Milos Raonic in the semi-finals at Wimbledon in July last year.

But there is an aura about center courts and the aura magnifies when Roger Federer decides to step on to it. At the ripe age of 35, after a sore knee and 4 children, it seemed that Tomas Berdych was a mere prey to the beautiful canvas that Federer was painting upon.

Jim Courier in his post-match analysis said something beautiful and yet apt,

“The tennis ball doesn’t know how old you are, and it certainly didn’t recognize that he was 35 years old out there at all, that was pretty sweet. Magical actually.”

The numbers were eloquent. Federer had 40 winners and 17 unforced errors. He won 70 percent of the points against Berdych’s second serve and 20 of 23 points at the net. He also faced no break points and won a remarkable 95 percent of the points on his first serve. Every facet of Federer’s game was purring. He dropped 14 points in 14 service games – just two on his first serve – and denied the Czech a single break point. On return, he was deadly, breaking four times, and strung a seven-game stretch together from 1-2 down in the first to lead by a set and a break with less than half an hour on the match clock.

Federer’s backhand, so often the barometer of his form and confidence, was devastatingly accurate. Three stood out: the first drew a stunned expression from Berdych’s coach Goran Ivanisevic in the stands; the second, a return winner on the late rise in the second set, and the third on match point. Of his 40 winners, 10 came from his one-hander.

Probably, Federer is just getting warmed up and this version of him is needed as he faces an intimidating fifth-seed Kei Nishikori in the next round and if he manages to go past him then his array of opponents could be No. 1 Andy Murray in the quarterfinals and Wawrinka in the semis.

Nishikori up against an in-form Roger Federer

On facing Nishikori in his next match, Roger Federer said:

“I guess I’m ready, there’s no turning back now.”

When the draw came out, forecasters noted that Federer would likely have to beat five top-10 players for the first time in his career to claim his 18th major in Melbourne. That may well be the case – but with this form, no player will relish stepping on court with the Swiss, a fate that awaits Nishikori on Sunday.

“If he’s the favourite, I’m the favourite, I don’t know, But he’s definitely played better and more tennis in recent months. But then again, it’s a new season. We’ll see what happens.”

Federer seemed wary when asked about his clash against Nishikori, who trails their head-to-head 4-2.

Winner of this bout has a potential quarterfinal against top-ranked Andy Murray, who showed no signs of trouble with his sore ankle as he advanced to the round of 16 for the ninth consecutive year with a 6-4, 6-2, and 6-4 win over Sam Querrey.

Rumble in the Jungle of Australia

It was Querrey who ended Novak Djokovic’s impressive Grand Slam run in the third round at Wimbledon last year. At the time, Djokovic had won four straight major titles — Wimbledon and the United States Open in 2015 and the Australian Open and the French Open in 2016.

Murray, who replaced Djokovic, a six-time Australian Open champion, at No. 1 in November, said he was surprised by Djokovic’s second-round loss to Denis Istomin here the previous night.

But Murray, a five-time Australian Open runner-up, did not think it changed anything for him, unless he reached the final. Murray will next play Mischa Zverev.

Federer extended his record to 17-6 over Berdych and has won their last six meetings. The last time the Czech defeated Roger Federer was in the semi-finals at Dubai in 2013.

The Swiss legend is looking to become the third man to win five Australian Open singles titles after Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson, who have both won six.

It will be a case of Nishikori’s backhand against the mental strength of Roger Federer and for a change there might be a role reversal to the David-Goliath story.

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