MASON, OHIO—Riffing off of the token phrase, it was sage before beauty on Center Court in Cincinnati. Roger Federer’s wisdom outshone Bernard Tomic’s seemingly regressing, though crafty, quiver of tricks. One was 31, and the other 19, but they walked out sporting similar no-collar shirts (immaculate white, naturally) dark-hued shorts, and bandannas. That’s where the parallels ended: Federer broke immediately, claiming the match by a 6-2, 6-4 count.
The Wimbledon winner and Olympic finalist shot out quickly, notching a startlingly formulaic first set. Tomic’s slice backhand was hardly about to give Federer trouble—Roger wears the crown as that shot goes—and, what’s more, the Aussie’s forehand soared long consistently. Tomic was rendered, or rendered himself, a non factor in the opening stanza, registering neither a single ace nor a double fault.
On the other hand, Federer continues to be a master who operates with workmanlike precision. That’s great to see from one who could scarcely be more decorated. Even so, he served at just 50 percent in the first set, still winning eight of 11 first-serve points and the exact same on his second attempts. In short, the top-seeded Swiss was brutal as he could be. He didn’t double fault once, also not facing a single break point. Tomic did him a few favors, resorting to inconsistent baseline hitting far too often, just as he has all season, it seems. Thus, Federer role-played as art curator, and Tomic willingly served as apprentice. The Swiss master threaded and brushed drop shots that left his foe’s face looking like a headstone, stoic and grave. Meanwhile, Tomic’s own droppers frequently met the net.
The younger of this pair awoke in the second set, launching four aces in his first three service games and then seven total for the match. It wasn’t enough. Tomic impatiently opted to hit straight-up with Federer for the bulk of this bout, and that works for no one save players named Nadal and Djokovic, and, at times Berdych and Del Potro. As is, Tomic’s star has fallen, from a career-high ranking at No. 27 in June to a Top-50 cling at No. 49 now. He’s got the goods but likely needs a strategy therapist.
Next up for Federer, who has never lost to Tomic in three meetings is Mardy Fish, who trumped Radek Stepanek for the first time in his career before speaking afterward about Federer as if he’d already beaten Tomic. Fish is nothing if not prescient. And so it will be the hearty American—now the male version of Venus Williams, always asked about his health—against the high-art world No. 1.
Fish went eye to eye with Federer before blinking at 4-all in the final set of the Cincinnati 2010 final, and he says he’s match-tough again this week. It remains to be seen if he can channel that verve and shot-making from two years ago here. He knows this already: Fed will be Fed.