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Tennis

Not so fast: Federer schools Tomic in 'Saturday Night Special'

Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Roger Federer has never lost to someone born in the '90s and gets another one next in Milos Raonic.

Friday night in a much anticipated third-round match in Rod Laver Arena, Maria Sharapova beat Venus Williams. Though the match wasn't particularly close (6-1, 6-3), Sharapova reacted as though she had won the entire event. Pumping her fists, she let out a shriek sufficiently loud that fans complained about the noise pollution. In Perth.

"I was just really pumped," she said. "Why shouldn't I be?"

Saturday night, in a much anticipated third-round match in Rod Laver Arena, Roger Federer beat Bernard Tomic 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-1. While Federer showed restraint after match point -- simply smiling and smacking a ball into the crowd -- make no mistake: like Sharapova the night before, he was really pumped.

When they call Federer "The King," it's a nod to his supremacy on the court, but also to his regal disposition. And part of that is a ruler's omniscient awareness of his dominion. Federer knows everything that goes on in the Kingdom of Tennis. He knows the players, the secondary characters, the politics and the gossip.

So while Tomic may resemble nothing so much as a puppy, yapping and barking and snapping at the ankles of larger figures, Federer is well aware of his presence. And when John Tomic, Bernard's dad, crows about his son -- "In two years' time, Bernard will be the standard of [Novak Djokovic, Federer, Andy Murray], I know it," was today's boast, this one uttered to journalist Neil Harman -- it makes headlines.

"I didn't read much," said Federer, who, at the urging of Patrick Rafter, gave Tomic one-on-one tips after a Davis Cup tie in 2011. "I didn't hear much, to be honest. I think it's important to be confident, but obviously you respect the game and you respect, yeah, the other players. I think he has a lot of respect for me."

As Federer plays into his 30s and is running out of records to set, motivation can be hard to come by. A chance to humble this mouthy kid, popping about his pending dominance? At his home Slam? On a sold-out session, already given its own branding -- "Saturday Night Special" -- by the national TV network? That'll work, thanks.

Before the match in the tunnel, Federer pressed against a wall and began a battery of kangaroo-style jumps. He rolled his head to loosen up. As aides-de-camp offered brief instructions, Federer stared intensely straight ahead. He may be a player known for his elegance and ease. But prior to taking the court, he called to mind nothing so much as a UFC fighter preparing to enter the Octagon.

In the first set, Federer grabbed an early break on Tomic -- the first time that happened all tournament -- and held on to win 6-4. Backing up his bold talk, Tomic stood toe-to-toe with Federer, slugging aggressively, showing both his ferocious power and his precocious variety. Then, up 5-2 in the tiebreak, the kid got a vivid illustration of what differentiates the great from the very good. Federer toggled from defense to offense, flicked angles on both sides and hammered clutch serves. Five points later, Federer was up two sets.

"I had a chance there," Tomic said, "and I missed it."

By then, it was all over but the "Aussie-Aussie-Aussie, oy-oy-oys." Federer sustained his level, whipped off a few highlight-reel winners, took advantage of some Tomic mental lapses, all the while barely sweating. The third set was a 6-1 knockout punch that barely lasted half an hour. As Lleyton Hewitt put it nicely, "Credit Bernard for asking the questions; but Roger was up for it tonight. He answered them all."

Yes, by the end, you couldn't help feel for Tomic. He's a young kid -- 20 represents his chronological age, not his emotional age -- growing up on a national, if not global, stage. An ambitious, hard-driving father has clearly made sacrifices for his son, an immense source of additional pressure. Unlike so many players, he clearly relishes big matches.

"It's just a matter of time when I get up to the big group of boys in the top 10," Tomic said. "I know I'm going to be in there with this attitude."

And, besides, what's Tomic supposed to say? Federer is the Greatest of All Time, the GOAT; that doesn't mean everyone else has to be the sheep. For years, the ATP's slogan may as well have been "Too good, Roger," as players took the court with expectation of winning. If a 20-year-old, clearly possessing talent to burn, comes into a match against a top player, fat with ambition and confidence, well is that really so bad?

As the two players met at the net, a stadium roared with applause. Not only was it a fun, high-quality match but there was a sense that if the last Aussie in the draw was to lose, at least he went down to Federer. And went down swinging.

"Well done," Tomic mumbled at the handshake.

You hope he was offering humility and praise. He might simply have been guessing the barbecue setting that a motivated Federer had chosen this night.

Mailbag

Why does ESPN keep referring to the Aussie Open as Li Na's "home Slam?"-- Peter Galante, Oakland, Calif.

? Slam of the Asia and Pacific region, my friend. I love that marketing strategy. I just wonder whether Asia and Pacific were ever consulted.

Buy, sell, hold: Madison Keys, Jamie Hampton, SloaneStephens.-- Jim McEntee, Pittsford, N.Y.

? Buy, buy, hold.

What's up with Jesse Levine being Canadian now?-- Justin DePietropaolo, Chester Springs, Pa.

? Grew up in Ottawa + better chance of making a Davis Cup team = hasta la USTA.

? Lots of players have expressed contempt for Lance Armstrong. But perhaps none as strongly as Victoria Azarenka.

"He deserves everything he gets," she said. "You know, you cannot go through the stuff and be a hero in the end of the day. You cannot lie. You cannot cheat. ... The only thing I liked about his interview what he said is he doesn't expect anybody to forgive him. There is no other way."

? Good news for Los Angeles tennis fans: Djokovic, Pete Sampras, Mardy Fish and the Bryan Brothers are all playing this event.

? David Marus of Hamburg, Germany: Regarding Mona Barthel: She clearly has a massive attitude issue. She is still coached by her mother, who has no tennis background. The on-court coaching is always cringe-worthy ("You need to enjoy the moment!" after choking away a first-set tiebreak) and now she has turned down a Fed Cup nomination because "she wants to focus on her own career" -- even though spending some time with the Fed Cup team surely could teach her a lot about how to be a professional tennis player.

German source for Fed Cup drama. [Are we all in agreement that "Fed Cup drama" is redundant?]

? John Isner and Ryan Harrison will headline July's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, R.I.

? Gael Monfils attempts to serve out a match, as told in GIFs.

? Blake Redabaugh of Denver has long-lost siblings: Tomic and actor Zach Woods (Gabe on The Office).

? Terry from Manila, Philippines, counters with Tomic and this guy.

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