Roger Federer has set some spectacularly high standards in piling up a grand total of 16 Grand Slam singles titles, so it is not disrespectful to say he was sensationally inept through the latter part of the second set in today’s match, a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Tommy Robredo in the fourth round.

In what was surely one of the worst three-point combos of his career, Federer, while serving at 3-4, mishit two volleys, then belted a sitter forehand near the net wide, giving Robredo the break. He began the eighth game with a backhand mishit that went way out of the court, prompting “oohs” from the crowd. The rest of the set was anything but a work of art.

Channel Seven’s Jim Courier asked him about it afterward and Federer said, somewhat philosophically, “Look, that’s how it goes sometimes. We don’t have much margin at the very top level.”

That surely is the best attitude to take.

There may be three possible explanations for the patches of play when Federer was out of touch with his best level. 1.) There is still a little residual effect from his grueling five-set match with Gilles Simon four days ago. 2.) His 9-0 head-to-head advantage over Robredo made it difficult to get motivated. 3.) As players get older, they are more prone to making unforced errors in bunches. Veterans seem to have to more on their mind after playing so many tournaments over so many years, which can include some mental stumbling blocks.

The relative tabula rasa of a young player just starting out certainly has its pluses.

By the fourth set, Federer had his touch and his rhythm back, looking like himself again. He was also impressive in the opening set, losing not a single point on serve.

While Federer was in that arid stretch in the second set, an odd thought went through my mind: With Nadal looking a little tired and not quite his normal self against Tomic on Saturday night, maybe the balance of power in this tournament has flip-flopped from the Nadal-Federer axis to Djokovic and Murray, with those two have looking so strong thus far.

Still, there is no need to panic for the Federer faithful, or Rafa’s supporters. On today’s stat sheet, Federer still came out with 50 winners to 40 unforced errors.

True to himself, he had his usual comment about stats after the match: “I don’t care about unforced errors. The guys that love the statistics, they love those things. I don’t care if I make 20 or 60 unforced errors, I don’t care. As long as I’m doing the right things and staying true to my game plan and it makes sense. If I’m just making errors and I can’t hit any winners any more, then I’m in trouble, clearly.

“But it’s about setting up the plays right. That’s why for me those kind of statistics don’t mean a whole lot to me. It’s sort of more how many points do you win on second serves and returns and all those kind of things. So it’s not just the winners and error count that matters to me.”

After reaching his record-tying 27th consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal (with Jimmy Connors, although Connors did it while not playing some Slams during the streak), Federer will face the winner of the Andy Roddick-Stanislas Wawrinka night match. He told Courier he would be supporting his Swiss pal.

Courier used a wise crack to end his on-court interview. After the two discussed Wawrinka and Roddick, and talked about Federer having won the 2008 Olympic doubles gold with Wawrinka, Courier said, “That just proves what everyone has been saying in the locker room, the best doubles team is anyone...and Stan Wawrinka.”

With that, Courier patted Federer on the shoulder and the interview was over.

—Tom Tebbutt