- Kamakshi Tandon
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MELBOURNE, Australia -- Night, day, clay specialist, power-baller bring 'em all on. That's the message Roger Federer is sending after two rounds at the Australian Open as he continues his quest for a record-tying 14th Grand Slam title.
Federer walloped young Russian Evgeny Korolev 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 on Wednesday, and in the process hit perhaps the shot of the tournament -- an overhead smash that came off one of Korolev's own overheads. Almost touching the back wall as he made the unlikely winner, Federer grinned broadly and pointed a triumphant finger to acknowledge the applause of the crowd.
His victory set up an appealing third-round clash against Marat Safin on Friday. The two played a classic match here in the 2005 semifinals, which Safin won in five thrilling sets on his way to the title.
Even Federer is looking forward to the matchup, which is expected to produce some entertaining points but not place Federer in any great danger.
"It's going to be a nice match, for sure," he said. "We have a history. We had different personalities growing up.
"Him, of course being a former No. 1, same for me, former Grand Slam champions -- it's an intriguing matchup."
Federer also said he expected a tougher challenge from Safin on these Australian hard courts than when the two met on the grass courts of Wimbledon last summer, with the Swiss winning in straight sets.
Either way, he'll work up more of a sweat than he did today, when he needed just an hour and 27 minutes to wrap up the victory. The 20-year-old Korolev delivers bullets off both wings (particularly the forehand) but misfired left and right as Federer pressured him on the return and forced him to come up with spectacular shots.
Korolev managed to break Federer for the first and only time at 5-2 in the first set, but he was broken seven times himself, including a costly lapse in the seventh game of the second set. Forty-four unforced errors were the Russian's main undoing, negating the fact that he hit 26 winners to Federer's 25.
That inconsistency is a big part of the reason why Korolev, who underwent a groin operation last year, must still count being Anna Kournikova's cousin as his main claim to fame.
As in his first-round match, Federer looked sharp given that the tournament is in such an early stage. (He often begins slowly in tournaments and then gets better.) The conditions were entirely different, though, with his first-round match taking place at night against Andreas Seppi, who is far less flashy and more consistent than Korolev.
It has been interesting to watch Federer attack the net at strategic points in both his first two matches, particularly his opener. It's a tactic he also tried in his warm-up matches ahead of the tournament. Let's see if he can manage to pull off similar forays in the next round against Safin, who has lost a little speed over the years but still can aim his passing shots with deadly precision.
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
5dDavid M. Hale