MELBOURNE—Roger Federer and Nikolay Davydenko had a history at this tournament. Twice the Russian had pushed Federer to the brink of five sets here. In 2006, they had gone to a tiebreaker in the fourth; in 2010, in a match where Davydenko won the first set 6-2, Federer had made it through 7-5 in the fourth. Despite the fact that Federer came in with a 17-2 lifetime record against Davydenko, the possibility of a competitive match was there at the start.
That possibility lasted for five games. The two men started with some hot-hitting, ping-pong style rallies—pace was met with pace. But at 3-2, Federer stepped his pace and placement up a bit, and Davydenko couldn’t respond. An error put him down a break, and seemed to take all early wind out of his sails. Federer held out for the set on the strength of 18 winners. The match never returned to its early peak. In the third game of the second set, with a blistering backhand-forehand, corner-to-corner combination, Federer broke Davydenko’s serve, and his spirit went with it as well. Federer won, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, in a less-competitive-than-it-sounds one hour and 59 minutes.
By the second set, the ping-pong rallies were a thing of the past, as Davydenko couldn’t stay with his faster and more consistent opponent from the baseline. Davydenko has obviously slowed, and his forehand faded, since their best battles late in the last decade. Federer’s stats weren’t stellar from the baseline; he made 42 errors against 35 winners, and went through a casual phase in the middle of the second set. But Davydenko was much worse. He made 39 errors and hit just 17 winners, and his forehand sailed over the baseline time and again.
The match was vintage Federer in two other ways as well. He pressed on break points, and converted just three of 13 of them—that’s the main reason the match lasted as long as it did. At the same time, though, Federer bailed himself out of any minor trouble with his serve. He made 69 percent of his first balls, and won three-quarters of those points. He didn’t face a break point.
Federer moves on as smoothly as he could have hoped in the 100-degree heat, and sets up a rematch of last year’s third-round Saturday night showdown with Aussie up-and-comer Bernie Tomic. Last year it was a breeze for Federer; it probably won’t be as easy this time. But this performance, imperfect as it was, likely won't worry him. The attacking style he used against the hard-hitting Davydenko, while it led to errors, should be an effective template against the crafty Tomic as well.