“It’s not so much fun,” said Tomas Berdych, the 10th seed at the Australian Open, after getting picked apart in a neat 92 minutes. “I would rather be in the stands watching than on the court.”
No one could really blame him. Watching Roger Federer win this third-round matchup 6-2, 6-4, 6-4, it felt like the Swiss master had smudged out the second digit of his own lowly 17 seed. Even he was taken aback: “It’s just crazy how quick I got out of the blocks.”
Let’s cut to the most obvious pleasure, the slew of pornographic one-handed backhands. Critics claim Federer’s backhand serves as a handy oil-check for his overall level of play—“the barometer of his form and confidence,” as one writer put it—so you can watch these and easily deduce how good he was feeling:
Winners came from all over. Down-the-line spontaneously, cross-court into open space after a torturous rally, on the rise while jumping back away from the ball. As always, his floaty preparatory footwork unlocks all these options, and at 35, despite losing a notch in raw speed, it has yet to fail him.
At net, whether coming in off a deep forehand or his skidding slice approach shot, he was 20 for 23. He rarely looked harried up there, and even when Berdych’s ball clipped the net cord, Federer smoothly improvised:
Though his stans are all blubbering about a “vintage” performance, it’s difficult to recall a Federer of any age serving this imperiously against an opponent this highly ranked. He lost just 14 points across his 14 service games. He got his first serve in 41 times, and won 39 of those points.
Granted, 31-year-old, 6-foot-5 Berdych isn’t moving and returning like the best on tour—certainly not as fluidly as Federer’s next opponent, Kei Nishikori, the fifth seed with the agile, attacking game. Federer, who is 4-2 against Nishikori, praised the Japanese star’s backhand as “one of the best out there,” and their meeting on Sunday should supply the most aesthetically satisfying baseline rallies of the tournament so far.