Federer, Nadal, Murray on fire
MELBOURNE, Australia -- On a day in which their male and female colleagues had their wills tested, their bodies stressed and their spirits in many cases deflated along with their games, three of tennis' Big Four cruised through the second round of the Australian Open as if they were in the Fastpass line at Disney World.
With temperatures soaring to a high of 110, making it the hottest day of the week and the most unpleasant according to a complex formula that caused officials to suspend play for four hours in the late afternoon and early evening, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray scored straight-set victories in relatively cool fashion.The three played in air conditioning, such as it was with the roofs closed on Rod Laver and Hisense Arenas, and came out with impressive straight-set victories -- Federer coasting past Blaz Kavcic 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (4), Nadal giving a clinic to 17-year-old Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 and Murray, until the final set, toying with qualifier Vincent Millot 6-2, 6-2, 7-5.
Both Nadal, the tournament's top seed, and No. 6 Federer spoke of the mugginess inside, and indeed even outside the humidity index went from the middle teens to 60 percent. But to complain beyond that may have actually drawn resentment of two of the most affable players in the game.
"Maybe it's a tiny bit slower," Federer said. "The ball doesn't go through the air that quick. It was a bit humid. Overall it was really nice conditions, of course."
Said Nadal: "I was very happy to see the roof closed."
Indeed, humid or not, the pair, who hardly need any favors, turned in two of the cleanest matches of the day, with Federer even doing a pretty good imitation of new coach Stefan Edberg with 23 net-point winners in 29 attempts.
"He was probably one of the greatest of all times in terms of serve and volley. He moved so smoothly and he did it so well and he did it for his entire career at the highest of levels," Federer said. "So, sure, if he can give me some input on the serve and volley and the volleys in general, that would be a good thing. But I worked a ton with Tony Roche on my volleys as well, throughout my career anyways.
"So I didn't hire Edberg just because of my volleys or because of the transition game. Surely if he can help me there, that would be great."
Instead, Federer, playing on a court other than the main Rod Laver Arena for the first time in 10 years, said his performance came from a level of fitness naturally improved after a year in which he played through but struggled with back problems.
"I'm moving well," he said. "As I move along in the draw I hope it becomes smoother and coordination gets better and the confidence rises. I did work hard on defense today to try to keep myself in a good position. He didn't hit many winners, so I was really able to get to many balls. Then I tried to cut across and move in and play aggressive when I could.
"So, yeah, in terms of fitness I feel great. I feel very healthy. That clearly is a great sign, because I can really focus on how I want to play tennis, where I want to move, how I want to play the ball, not 'Can I get to it?' but 'I will get there,' and then 'How will I hit the shot?' So it's a big difference from six months ago."
Nadal, not expected to flinch against a player in his first-ever Grand Slam tournament, did not with just three unforced errors in a nearly flawless first set.
"I think I played really well the first set," Nadal said. "Then the second set … I stopped a little bit. I played with less intensity. Playing with less intensity equals more mistakes, and that's what happened.
"It was important that the serve was there during the whole match. And, in my opinion, the third set I finished the match playing well again, good forehands down the line. That's the way to keep improving."
As for Murray, playing against the 267th-ranked player in the world, he seemed to string out the third set for the challenge of coming back, trailing 5-1 in the final set before taking the final six games, including the last 23 points in a row.
"It was a good way to finish the match," said Murray after only his fourth match following back surgery in September. "I feel much better than I did two weeks ago and hopefully I'll feel better and better. It's all a process for me. I've never dealt with this before."