MELBOURNE—This weekend Roger Federer claimed that he was confident enough in his ability, and knowledgeable enough about his game, to forego any match warm-ups before this year's Aussie Open. So far, it's hard to fault his logic. Federer, who has had some trouble finding his best form in opening rounds in the past, needed less than a game to get there today. He broke Benoit Paire to start the match and consolidated with a neat running flick backhand pass that curled in for a winner. Federer celebrated with a short fist-pump. Maybe he knew something that we didn’t, because that shot marked the end of the (very brief) competitive part of this match.
Federer went on to win 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 in 83 minutes. He continued to look good throughout. He hit 25 winners against 18 errors, felt comfortable enough to come to the net 31 times (and win 25 of those points), converted six of 12 break points, and saved all three that he faced. He did well moving around for his forehand and jumping on Paire’s serve when he wanted a point, and he contributed to his lifetime highlight reel with a few dive-bombing crosscourt backhand winners. The only thing that seemed to get under the Maestro's craw were a few sailed backhands, shots that he took a little late above the shoulder.
In truth, it must have been hard for Federer, however rested and ready he was after two months away, to maintain his concentration. Paire offered less and less resistance as the match went on. In the third set, the Frenchman commenced clown time in earnest—a drop shot overhead was soon followed by a two-handed forehand return, which, inevitably, led to volley hit (and missed) from between the legs. Along the way, Paire may have set the record for the worst challenge of all time, a joke query of a second serve that landed four feet long. It was one of the Frenchman’s eight double faults over the course of a short match.
You might have thought that Paire, a tennis stylist who professes to admire Federer, would have given his best when he had the chance to face him on a Grand Slam center court. But he went the other way instead, for reasons of his own. In the process, he made his game a little harder to take seriously, and his act a little harder to enjoy. He seemed to have no plan for winning points, so he stopped trying to win them. As for Federer, he moves on to play the winner of Nikolay Davydenko and Dudi Sela. He’ll be very nearly as rested as he was before this one.
One shot to mention. In the second set, before the end was quite in sight, Paire came forward to retrieve a drop volley. He lifted a lob up that appeared to have a chance of getting over Federer’s head. But Federer leapt back and in a single motion flicked a forehand volley-overhead back crosscourt, behind Paire, for a winner. The leap, and the foresight to wrong-foot Paire, made for my first moment of Federer amazement in 2013. I hope his opponent took note. That’s what playing it cool on a tennis court is all about.