Roger Federer said he hoped to erase his shock defeat in last year’s Australian Open third round on Wednesday as he set up an enticing last-32 showdown with Grigor Dimitrov -- the Bulgarian once dubbed “Baby Fed”.
Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam record-holder, was never in trouble against his Ukrainian practice partner Alexandr Dolgopolov in a clinical 6-3, 7-5, 6-1 win in one hour, 33 minutes on Rod Laver Arena. While his great rival Rafael Nadal fell at the first hurdle, the Swiss great has now reached the third round in all 17 of his appearances at Melbourne Park.
Next up for the Swiss is 27th seed Dimitrov, the former world number eight and a finalist last week in Sydney who was long dubbed ‘Baby Fed’ because of his similarities to Federer’s elegant game.
After last year’s campaign ended at this stage with a stunning defeat to Italy’s Andreas Seppi, third-ranked Federer hopes to avoid another upset this time around.
“Grigor did well in Sydney and that definitely will give him a bit of a lift,” Federer said.
“I think it’s a tough draw. He’s got the game to be really dangerous. He’s fit enough for a five-setter so I’ve gotta definitely bring my best game to the court.
“It’s the least I expect to be in the third round of a Slam, obviously, so I’m pumped up, playing well, feeling good.
“But there’s always a danger, you know. Like last year the third round was the end for me, so I hope to go further this time.”
Federer’s loss to Seppi condemned him to his earliest exit from the season’s first Grand Slam in 14 years.
Against Dimitrov, the 34-year-old will be seeking his 300th Grand Slam singles victory as he chases his fifth title at the Australian Open, and first since 2010.
Wednesday’s win came off the back of an impregnable serve. While he broke Dolgopolov’s serve five times, he did not face a single break point on his own serve and hammered 25 aces.
“I thought today I did serve very well. Maybe it just matched up well, maybe Dolgopolov wasn’t seeing it as well,” Federer said.
“But also conditions are fast during the daytime, so that helps to be able to serve through opponents. It’s also harder to return, clearly.
“I’m happy I got the crucial first break in the first set. I think it was a big set for me. Then second set was the key, because it was close for a while.”
Federer said he was also working on his defensive game under the guidance of new coach and former world number three Ivan Ljubicic, who arrives following the departure of Stefan Edberg.
“I did put in the hard yards in the off season, but then again, I like to work on my strength most of the time,” he said.
“The offensive part of my game, serve and volley, taking the forehand early, using my backhand as a variation.
“But, of course, the defensive part is the base. You also need to have that to be able to play the transition game, which I have played so well throughout my career.
“To go from defence to offence in the blink of an eye, it’s something I did so well for so many years.”
Federer practised with the pony-tailed Dolgopolov in Dubai during the off-season and took his record over him to 3-0.
“I’m a big fan of Alex’s game. He’s explosive, got a great return, especially on the second serve,” the Swiss said.
“He’s got all the shots. Just for him, managing how to use what at what time.”