Tomic on right path to top, says Federer
Bernard Tomic is not yet the player he will be; Roger Federer not quite the unstoppable force he was. But it took one of the world's best players to inflict the 20-year-old's only defeat of the summer, a 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 loss in the third round at Melbourne Park that was nevertheless a step forward and up.
"Full credit to him. He was the best player and greatest of all time," Tomic said.
"I'm going to continue to work hard. It's just a matter of time when I get up to the big group of boys in the top 10. I've got to believe and do the things that I was doing the last few weeks. I know I'm going to be in there with this attitude."
The task now is to carry that good domestic form overseas, to more hostile environments, and surfaces. Federer challenged Tomic to do it last year. He could not.
"I remember those words. I didn't quite do it after I left here," Tomic admitted. "I've got the right goal, the mindset to do what it is I need to do . . . It's a challenge, but I've committed to myself I'm up for it. I can't wait for the next tournament to start."
This time, the last Australian in either singles draw met Federer one round earlier than at last year's Open, and remains winless in nine attempts in tour events against players in the top four. Which is largely to be expected, but Tomic has also shown such a liking for the big time, that he would have entered the match believing his own confident statements about feeling unstoppable, and ready to win.
The problem was that Federer was primed, too, the 17-time major winner relishing the chance to show one of the emerging generation that the old guard will not be departing quite yet.
By reaching the last 16 for the 12th successive year, Federer remains on course to become the second man in history - after Roy Emerson - to win five Australian titles.
But he said Tomic had forced him to play his best tennis, and noticed some improved power, and maturity in his young opponent, suggesting that "the whole package is I think a bit better".
The problem is that the 31-year-old remains the supreme all-rounder and more relaxed right now than tennis insiders have ever seen him.
The early stages would set the tone, and a service break in the opening game was both a setback for the underdog and a statement by Federer, whose intent was clear.
By the ninth game he had three set points on his opponent's serve, Tomic was favoured by a net-cord on a backhand volley on the second, but his reprieve only temporary, the first set dusted in barely half an hour.
Still, into the second, while Tomic was consistently under pressure in his service games, the upside was that he responded marvellously, hitting out with welcome boldness and mostly shelving the funky junky stuff that troubles others more than it has bothered Federer.
Tomic's tactics were the right ones, but Federer was superior when it mattered, that tie-breaker critical to the outcome. He then conjured a masterful sequence on his fourth break point in the second game of the third set, a stunning crosscourt backhand setting up a forehand winner, Tomic losing heart as a brisk 31-minute final act delivered the Swiss champion an unprecedented 250th grand slam match win.
So, for just the fourth time in 16 years there will be no local man or woman in the Open's fourth round, and, for Tomic, there is still just one set to show from his four matches against his childhood idol, which came in a Davis Cup tie in 2011.
Tomic was still just 18 then, but buoyed by his Wimbledon quarter-final appearance, and hailed among the biggest of the rising stars in the men's game.
But from the middle of last year the game then got more complicated for a young man who seems to play it so easily, and only through a concerted training program at year's end has he managed to find a clearer path back towards the top.
"I hope he can keep it up; I really wish him the best," Federer said.
"He's a big guy, so he's got a lot of power and he's got a big serve . . . I think he did excellent tonight and he'll be tough to beat in the future, that's for sure."