Aura of Federer too big for Tomic
Tomic had the burden of being the only Australian left in the Australian Open singles draw, but that isn't the heaviest baggage he has carried this season. The 20-year-old, who had an epiphany in the offseason and decided to stop squandering valuable time with bad-boy shenanigans, sprinted out ahead of his recent past to win 10 straight matches in 2013.
He walked out onto the court at Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night intent on continuing to extend that gap. But it takes a long time to recount even the short version of Federer's accomplishments. Tomic -- knowing he was about to face a great front-runner anyway -- found his confidence a bit shaken by the royal introduction reverberating out of the public address system.
"When you play these sort of players like Roger or Novak [Djokovic], you lose belief before you get into the match,'' 43rd-ranked Tomic said with rueful respect afterward. "I got in there; I started to think after they mentioned all these Grand Slams leading up, Wimbledon champion six times, six times U.S. Open champion.
"Then I was, 'Oh, crap, it's Roger.' I try to block out who's on the other side of the net but couldn't quite do it after that announcement.''
Every Grand Slam match Federer wins sets a record, and he notched No. 250 in the third round against Tomic, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-1, outdueling him in a high-quality second-set tiebreaker after Tomic went up 4-1. With Tomic serving at 5-3 a couple of points later, the two wrestled through a 29-shot rally ended by a stinging Federer forehand.
Tomic made one last stand in the opening game of the third set by earning his first break point against Federer, but he couldn't capitalize and admitted later that he tired in the late going.
Federer said he relishes being pushed to his A-game -- he dropped only eight points on his first serve all night -- and wasn't surprised he had to go there.
"I've seen and felt myself playing before so many times that I feel I didn't come up with a shot that I never hit before in my life,'' he said with a slightly amused air at a reporter's question. "But we had some great ones, and I had to be able to bring the whole repertoire, I guess, to the court today, defense and offense, which I enjoy.''
Strong serving has been the basic building block of Tomic's run, but Federer temporarily took the steam out of him by breaking in the very first game, ending a string of 76 straight holds. To Tomic's credit, he shook it off and dueled Federer in a clean, crisp opening set in which Federer's early advantage proved all he needed. Tomic was consistently under more pressure in his service games than Federer was in his, but he was never absent.
"When he needs it the most, he plays amazing,'' Tomic said, stating what's evident but also true of a player who hasn't bowed out at this juncture of a Slam since 2004. "Today I didn't hit the right shot, didn't play the right point when I needed to.
"Every time I played him, he mentioned, 'Well done, Bernie, keep going, keep improving. Keep going, keep pushing yourself.' It's important you take that on board because, you know, you can become a better player when you get information off the world's best.''
More tall, youthful firepower awaits Federer in the round of 16 in the form of 22-year-old Canadian Milos Raonic, who echoed Tomic's prematch optimism about the man he has yet to beat.
"I've had my three shots against him, and I look forward to my fourth,'' Raonic said.
"I think I played well in the other ones. I think I got pretty damn close the one time in Madrid,'' said Raonic, who took that match on clay last year to a third-set tiebreaker. "I just know how to deal with it. I think I have a higher tolerance within myself and a higher belief within myself stepping up against Roger.''
He just might want to wear earplugs until the first point is played.
Australian Open 2013 -- Jan. 13-Jan. 27
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