Roger Federer celebrated his 100th match at the Australian Open on Friday by giving young American Taylor Fritz a centre court schooling to reach the last 16 and set up a mouthwatering clash with ‘Next Gen’ champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Chasing a record seventh Melbourne title and his third in succession, the 37-year-old Swiss has been in ominous form at the year’s first Grand Slam and his 6-2 7-5 6-2 masterclass at Rod Laver Arena was another warning to the Tour’s upstarts.
Fritz, 21, was meant to offer Federer a meaningful test with his prodigious serve and powerful ground-strokes but was instead sent packing after less than 90 minutes.
Third seed Federer tied the American in knots with a sumptuous array of drop shots, angled volleys and winners conjured seemingly at will from behind the baseline.
Fans hoping for change at the top of men’s tennis will look to Greek trailblazer Tsitsipas to give Federer a better shake.
The shaggy-haired 20-year-old, who capped a breakout season by claiming the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan in December, has ridden a wave of support from Melbourne’s huge Greek community at the tournament.
Federer has his own army of fans at Melbourne Park, however, and they hung on his every word as he delivered words of encouragement to the young pretenders seeking to knock him off the perch.
“They’re doing great, what do you want me to tell you?” he told Jim Courier in his on-court interview.
“We all want them to win the big stuff but it just takes time … I’m still giving them a hard time sometimes.”
Federer has reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for a record-extending 63rd time in the professional era and may still be the best equipped player to deny top seed Novak Djokovic from claiming a third Grand Slam title in succession.
Citing Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey, who won an Olympic silver at 40 and continued to run into her fifties, a reporter asked Federer whether his best might still be to come.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said bluntly.
“I think the last 10 years have been a lot of fun, maybe more fun than the first 10, I’m not sure.
“But yeah, I don’t think with four children and with the career that I have had and my body, I want it to be somewhat healthy – and healthy actually when I retire.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, you know, to be quite honest.”