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Tomic set for career-defining match

MELBOURNE, Australia -- It was a simple headline in the Herald Sun, but one that summed up what all of Australia was thinking after its new darling, Bernard Tomic, reached the fourth round of the Australian Open.

"Now for Roger," the tabloid proclaimed on its front page.

That would be, of course, Roger Federer.

In a potential changing-of-the-guard moment, their clash highlights Sunday's action at the season's first major.

In one corner: Mr. Federer, the 16-time Grand Slam champion who is 30, past his prime but still plenty good. In the other: The 19-year-old Tomic, who is beginning to live up to the hype -- including his own. As a young teen, Tomic predicted he'd win all four majors and reach No. 1 by the time he was 18.

Even busy tournament director Craig Tiley plans to tinker with his schedule to watch as much of the affair as he can.

"I think I'll find the time," Tiley said. "I'll get here earlier Sunday to get more things done in the morning.

"I'm looking forward to it. I've been on a six-and-a-half year, seven-year journey with Bernard since he was a kid and dealt with him and his family a lot. Then I've been a friend and fan of Roger's now for a long, long time. From a personal point of view it's going to be a fun, fun match."

The legend of Tomic this fortnight intensified Friday, when he rallied for the third straight encounter to down a wasteful Alexandr Dolgopolov in an absorbing five sets. There was more slicing and carving than a hearty Thanksgiving dinner.

Federer grabbed all the big points, as he usually does against Ivo Karlovic, to topple the 6-foot-10 Croatian in straight sets.

Tomic, less brash these days, played his "idol" once already, and on home soil, in September's Davis Cup playoffs. Federer prevailed on grass in four sets.

"I was extremely tired from playing my game [against] Lleyton [Hewitt] the first day, then the doubles and coming from [the U.S. Open], so I don't remember that much," said Federer, who is set to play in his 999th match. "I don't remember that much."

"To play him and have a feel for him, even on grass -- this is good for me," Tomic said. "I love this court here at Rod Laver. I think I've improved a lot."

Has he improved enough to end Federer's 22-match winning streak, though?

If Tomic can pull off the upset, it truly would mark the turning point in his promising career -- one that would set the tennis world abuzz.

But by no means would it be the only one this century. Here's a look back at some of these passing-of-the-torch moments:

Federer versus Sampras, Wimbledon, 2001

Federer was once in Tomic's shoes when he downed an aging Pete Sampras in the fourth round at the All England Club as a 19-year-old.

Sampras, approaching 30, was nearly untouchable at Wimbledon. He'd won four consecutive titles; a fifth straight would have tied him with Bjorn Borg. And despite Federer's rise, Sampras was expected to advance.

But Federer, playing a serve-and-volley game at Wimbledon back then, stunned Sampras in five sets.

"There are a lot of young guys coming up, but Roger is a bit extra special," Sampras said. "He has a great all-round game, like me doesn't get too emotional."

Sampras was on the mark.

Federer would lose to Tim Henman in the quarterfinals, but he hasn't done a whole lot of losing since.

Safin versus Sampras, U.S. Open, 2000

Sampras was on the receiving end again, this time at his home major and in the final.

Marat Safin, 20, produced arguably the best match of his life in the most important -- his maiden Grand Slam finale. He served huge, dictated from the baseline and returned Sampras' hefty serve with interest.

The Russian won in under 1 hour, 40 minutes.

"I was hoping in this big match, that he might come out a little bit tight, miss a couple of shots here or there, but he really didn't," Sampras said.

Safin won another Grand Slam title but never came close to maximizing his potential.

Sharapova versus Williams, Wimbledon, 2004

Serena Williams entered the 2004 Wimbledon final as the two-time defending champion. Further, she was 6-1 in Grand Slam finals.

And there was little reason to believe that the 17-year-old Sharapova, who was seeded a lowly No. 13, would not be her seventh victim. But hold the phone (as Sharapova would literally do later): The Russian outslugged Williams from the baseline and cruised to a 6-1, 6-4 win.

"At 17, to have that ability already, it's pretty amazing," said Andy Roddick, who lost to Federer in the men's final the next day. "But it's almost like she expects it. There's something inside her that's pretty impressive."

Sharapova's competitiveness remains, and she's won three majors in total.

Djokovic versus Nadal, Wimbledon, 2011

Novak Djokovic already was a Grand Slam winner and had beaten Rafael Nadal four times in 2011 before they met in the Wimbledon final.

Nadal, though, was the defending champion, and Djokovic's most potent surface wasn't supposed to be grass.

Yet the Serb defeated Nadal in four sets to not only win the title but prove he deserved the No. 1 ranking. He's hardly looked back since.

"It's really hard to describe this with any words except as the best day of my life, the most special day of my life," Djokovic said.

Djokovic inflicted more woe on Nadal in the U.S. Open final and is favored to add to his Grand Slam tally here in Melbourne.

Williams versus Williams, French Open, 2002

Serena Williams hadn't topped her older sister, Venus Williams, in a Grand Slam prior to Roland Garros 10 years ago. She was 0-3.

Venus Williams also led in Grand Slam titles, 4-1.

But Serena's 7-5, 6-3 win on the dirt ignited the so-called "Serena Slam" and elevated her to another level, and well past Venus.

"I didn't want to be a one-hit wonder," Serena said. "I had to get [another Grand Slam title] again."

And again, and again, and again.


London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.