The notion that Roger Federer—owner of 17 Grand Slam titles, including four from Melbourne—could lose in Round 3 of the Australian Open is, initially, downright laughable. Since missing the quarterfinals of the 2004 French Open, he's gotten at least that far in 34 consecutive grand slams.
But don't tell that to Bernard Tomic, one of the hottest—and certainly brashest— young tennis players on the planet.
Since the calendar turned to 2013, Tomic has scored a number of impressive victories. Representing team Australia, he bested Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-4 in the Hopman Cup—a nice supplement to other tournament wins over Tommy Haas and Andreas Seppi. He then proceeded to win the Australian Open's appetizer event, the Apia International Sydney, securing his first ever ATP championship.
And now he's set his sights on, arguably, the greatest player of all time.
When Roger Federer was broached about the possibility of playing Tomic in Round 3, he responded by saying: (h/t SI.com)
He’s also got his work cut out, you know, in the first few rounds. He will be making a mistake about thinking about me in the third round because he also has to get there.
But Tomic—never one to shy away from trash-talk—responded, undaunted, by joking that Federer needs to get that far too: (h/t SI.com)
I would love to get in that position to play Roger in the third round. He has to get there as well. You don’t know what can happen. Tennis is a funny sport. So we’ll see.
Roger Federer is a consummate professional. He's unlikely to be inhibited on the court because of a playful tete-a-tete in the days leading up to a match. And to both men's points, that they meet in Round 3 is far from a sure thing—Tomic would, technically, be the lower seed against Martin Klizan in his second match.
But should they meet each other at the end of this week, the question will remain palpable: Can Tomic actually pull this off?
My answer is yes. Not that he will pull off the upset, per se, but certainly that he can. Why not? He's got all the tools in the book. He's got momentum on his side, and—even though it didn't help Andy Murray at Wimbledon—he'll have the patriotic support of his countrymen at the court.
There's also the heat, something John McEnroe alluded to in a recent interview, saying, "...Roger is going to have a tougher time winning majors, particularly if the heat becomes a factor ... at his age it's not easy to bounce back as quickly and play best-of-five sets." (h/t NDTV.com)
Australia is currently mired in a record-breaking heat wave, some parts of the country reaching highs of 113 degrees.
It's hard to ever bet against Roger Federer, but it's also hard to expect him to play this well forever. At some point, there has to be a changing of the guard atop the firmament of great tennis players. And when the aging Federer finally does go down early, one would have to assume that his opponent is bound for great, great things.
If his recent play is any indication, Bernard Tomic certainly fits the bill.