MELBOURNE, Australia — The bravado he built by holding serve for 76 games dissolved in six points. It was Roger Federer on the other side of the net this time, in a major, and he gave 20-year-old Bernard Tomic an instant reality check – a kind of ‘Welcome to my place, Mate.’
“I elected to serve, considering I was serving really well the last few weeks,” Tomic said. “Yeah … that first service game was important. I lost it. Then I was like, ‘Oh, no!’”
The last Aussie exited the Australian Open on Saturday night, with Federer beating Tomic 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-1 in the third round.
“It’s not my favorite part of the job beating up on the hometown heroes,” Federer told the crowd at Rod Laver Arena, where he has won four of his 17 Grand Slam titles. “But it’s nice that you guys sort of invite me back every year.”
Federer earned his 250th win at a Grand Slam event, the milestone sprinkled with some of his classic crisp volleys and trademark one-handed backhands.
Federer won the first point of the match with a forehand winner, the first of three in that game, and Tomic only won two points before the Swiss star converted a service break in the first game.
Federer will face Canadian Milos Raonic, who had 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-4 win over Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber in a battle of two big servers.
Defending champion Victoria Azarenka struggled at times before putting away injured American Jamie Hampton 6-4, 4-6. 6-2 in 2 hours, 9 minutes. No. 3 Serena Williams dropped serve early in the second set before winning the last six games in her 6-1, 6-3 victory against Japan’s Ayumi Morita.
Top-ranked Azarenka overcame an early break and fended off triple break point in the seventh game of the deciding set before clinching the match. Hampton needed a medical timeout for a lower back problem immediately before she served out the second set, and winced in pain throughout the latter half of the match.
“She took a medical timeout but she rips winners all over the place,” Azarenka said. “I was like, ‘Can I have a back problem?’ I’m feeling great, but I’m missing every shot.”
Azarenka next plays Elena Vesnina, who beat 16th-seeded Roberta Vinci of Italy 7-6 (4), 6-4.
Williams is aiming for a third consecutive Grand Slam title. She rocketed another serve at 128 mph, equaling a career best that she hit earlier in the tournament.
She later combined with older sister Venus to win a second-round doubles match, more preparation for her fourth-round singles match against No. 14 Maria Kirilenko, who beat No. 20 Yanina Wickmayer 7-6 (4), 6-3.
Former U.S. and French Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova advanced 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 over Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro and will next play former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, who had a 6-4, 6-3 win over Ukraine qualifier Lesia Tsurenko.
Sloane Stephens beat Laura Robson 7-5, 6-3 in a matchup between the only teenagers left in the women’s draw. That set the 19-year-old Stephens on course for a fourth-round match against Serbia’s Bojana Jovanovski, who ended the run of 42-year-old Kimko Date-Krumm in the third round.
Almost halfway through the season’s first major, the only real upset was 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro’s 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 3-6, 6-3 loss to Frenchman Jeremy Chardy on Saturday. His departure meant only three major winners remained in the draw, and they’re collectively known as the “Big Three.”
No. 3 Andy Murray, who broke a 76-year drought for British men at the majors with his win at the U.S. Open last year, advanced to the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 win over Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis.
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic will be aiming for his 18th straight win at Melbourne Park when he lines up against No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka today. He is bidding to be the first man in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian titles.
The third round ended in the early hours of Sunday morning, when No. 14-seeded Gilles Simon outlasted fellow Frenchman Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 1-6, 8-6 in a match that finished at 12:32 a.m.
Both men needed treatment from the trainer during the 4 hour, 43-minute match on Hisense Arena, with Simon struggling to shake off soreness in his elbow and Monfils fighting fatigue.
Tomic claimed his first ATP Tour title last week in Sydney, and beat top-ranked Novak Djokovic the previous week at the exhibition Hopman Cup international mixed team competition in Perth. But he remembered very quickly that playing Federer in a Grand Slam was another step up again.
The young Australian has had his ups and downs: qualifying for Wimbledon in 2011 and reaching the quarterfinals, reaching the fourth-round at the Australian Open and losing to Federer last year are the highlights; sliding down the rankings and being labeled ‘Tomic the Tank Engine’ after his second-round loss to Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open and sliding down the rankings from a career-high No. 27 in June to No. 52 in December were the low points.
But he’d been regaining momentum in the Australian swing, talking about making it into the top 10, maybe even to No. 1, as he built up for the Federer match.
Then the proceedings began, starting with the master of ceremonies reading through Federer’s list of achievements for the 15,000-strong crowd.
“I got in there, I started to think after they mentioned all these Grand Slams leading up, Wimbledon champion six times, six times US Open champion,” he recounted the moments, laughing. “Then I was, ‘Oh ... 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. “
Simon and Chardy were among the four Frenchman who advanced on Saturday.
Their compatriots, No. 7-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – who beat Slovenian Blaz Kavcic 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 – No. 9 Richard Gasquet – who ousted Croatia’s Ivan Dodig 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2), 6-0 – will meet in the next round.
On a mild, bright sunny day, the Australian Open attracted its record one-day crowd: 53,928 for the day session, and 26,807 at night.
Tomic had his share of supporters among them, with a group of girls lining up in order with red letters on their white singles spelling out A-T-O-M-I-C. Federer had his share of support, too, with the red-and-white Swiss flags fluttering and people chanting his name. According to Tomic, the 31-year-old Federer even has fans in the locker rooms.
“A lot of players, especially in the locker room, they idolize Roger,” Tomic said. “He is the greatest our sport’s ever had. You learn something every time you watch him. I learned something tonight as well. “
Tomic said he was satisfied with his start to 2013, and would be supporting for Federer for the rest of the tournament.
“I’m sure he has a good chance of winning,” Tomic said. “Yeah, it’s always a good feeling if you lose (only) to the champion.”