In just his third tour-level match since mid-July 2016, the former World No. 1 blasted past No. 10 seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 in just 90 minutes. It was their seventh meeting at a major championship (Federer leads 5-2).
“I didn't expect this as such, to be honest, especially not this kind of a scoreline," said Federer. "Especially not having to save any break points, just always rolling on the serve. That was a big surprise to me. I think it was a great mental test for me to see if I could stay in the match – point for point. I was able to do that. That's where I'm just really happy that I was able to deliver that… It's wonderful. I'm really happy of course.”
Federer produced a masterclass in front of fellow all-time great Rod Laver, applying the pressure and keeping Berdych deep behind the baseline and unable to get into the match. After a third break of Berdych’s serve at the start of the second set, Federer seized control. Berdych was powerless in light of Federer’s backhand, first serve (won 39 of 41 points) and net (20 of 23 points) dominance.
Earlier in the day, fifth seed Kei Nishikori lost just eight of his first service points to beat qualifier and World No. 121 Lukas Lacko 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in two hours and 11 minutes. The Japanese star has not lost to a player outside of the Top 100 in the Emirates ATP Ranking since the 2013 US Open, when he lost to then No. 179-ranked Daniel Evans in the first round.
“After 5-2 [in the second set] I think he stepped up a little more,” said Nishikori. “He was more attacking my ball [and] playing very solid. But I tried to stay focus. I still had two breaks up. I was serving really well today. I just play with confidence.
“For sure it's not going to be easy [facing Federer]. He was playing great tennis today. I watched only a few points. But it's always great to play Roger. It's a big challenge for me. I'm just happy to play him because I think we needed him on the tour. I’m happy to see him back 100 per cent.”
Federer leads Nishikori, his fourth-round opponent, 4-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. He has won four titles at Melbourne Park - in 2004 (d. Marat Safin), 2006 (d. Marcos Baghdatis), 2007 (d. Fernando Gonzalez) and 2010 (d. Andy Murray) and has an 83-13 mark at the championship.
”I'm a big fan of (Kei’s) game," admitted Federer. "He's got one of the best backhands out there. I love how he can crush it down the line or crosscourt. He's got wonderful second serve returns. He's fast on his legs. Strong in his mind. I know how tough he is as the match goes along. He finds his range and his rhythm, he's tough to stop.”
I was really worried about this match, so this is so nice to see, especially considering his next opponent. It only gets tougher from here, but great win for Fed.