Australian Open 2017 - Sparkling Federer sweeps Berdych aside
On the very few occasions Federer has had to battle back from injury during the course of his career, he has never taken long to regain his very best form. Now 36 and back on the Tour after a six-month injury layoff – the longest he has ever faced – the Swiss showed that happy knack has not deserted him, stepping up his game after two less-than-perfect opening matches to outclass world No10 Tomas Berdych in the third round of the Australian Open. If this was meant to be a stern test of his powers of recovery, Federer passed it with flying colours, coasting to a 6-2 6-4 6-4 victory in an hour and a half.
Though Jürgen Melzer – a gallant former member of the Top 10 – and the promising Noah Rubin – the winner of a junior Grand Slam event two seasons ago – were both worthy opponents in Federer’s first two outings in Melbourne, their respective statuses as the 300th and 200th ranked players on the Tour meant the Swiss had yet to fully gauge what he is capable of as he approaches the final chapter of his career. “I haven’t done all this just to come back for one last tour of the court,” he told La Tribune de Genève just before his return. “My dream is to win another Grand Slam event and to get back to the top of the Rankings.”
Read more: Australian Open 2017 - Welcome back, Roger!
In disposing of Berdych, however, Federer passed an altogether different test, one that will have reassured both him and his fans as to the performance levels he can still achieve following his six months on the sidelines, and all at the age of 36. That 6-2 6-4 6-4 scoreline says everything about the competitiveness of the 17-time Grand Slam winner, a quality he has rediscovered in double-quick time.
"When I arrived here I didn't dare expect this much"
If the score was emphatic, then so was the manner in which it was achieved. Federer’s fumbling in that comeback match against Melzer, when his footwork lacked precision and his arm moved less freely than usual, was but a distant memory. Against Berdych, the legs were in perfect unison and the arm primed for action, allowing him to take the ball early and beat his opponent to the punch. Facing a player whose hard hitting has hurt him in the past (Berdych’s six wins over the Swiss include victories at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Olympics), Federer took the initiative straightaway and never relinquished it, recording an early break at 2-2 in the first set and converting that advantage into a two-set lead with exactly one hour on the clock. At that stage of the match he had yet to lose a point on his first serve, and would go on to concede a mere two out of 36.
Serving solidly, returning aggressively (winning 16 points out 26 on Berdych’s second serve – a 62% success rate) and ruthlessly seizing his break-point opportunities (converting four out of five), the Swiss was just too good for his Czech opponent, passing the test with top marks. “Tomas didn’t play as well as he’s capable of, and I played better than I expected, so…” commented the Swiss in modest fashion, his face wreathed in smiles. “When I arrived here I didn’t dare expect this much.” Having won through to the second week of his comeback event, Federer will now take on another top-ten player in Kei Nishikori. If, as they say, eating helps you regain your appetite, then Federer is a glutton. Watch this space.
Highlights: Federer - del Potro, Roland-Garros 2009 semi-final.