For someone who had won 13 straight matches and 29 out of 32 sets, there were an awful lot of questions surrounding Roger Federer entering his Round of 16 match against Tommy Robredo.
After Federer dismantled Lukas Lacko in the first round, Gilles Simon turned the Fed Express into a local in the second. Simon upped his level noticeably late in the second set with an array of brilliant defense, resourceful counterpunching and shocking forehand power.
Before you knew it, Roger had been knocked out of his months-long rhythm of Annacone-honed crispness.
A passivity crept into Roger's game that had not been seen since the summer, and when he did pick his spots and go for broke, lazy footwork and puzzling shanks led to several ugly errors. Federer's serve also dipped, and suddenly a two sets to love romp had turned into a five-set nightmare.
But, as great champions almost always do, Federer tightened up his game in the fifth and pulled the match out. It wasn't full-flight Fed, but he gritted his way into the third round against an opponent who did everything but go away.
Federer had been playing so well for so long that, to most, the hiccup against Simon seemed like an inconsequential, albeit unexpected, blip on the radar. Virtually everyone expected Fed to rebound against Xavier Malisse in a message-laden third-round masterpiece.
But Federer came out flat, tired and overly casual instead. In the first set, he committed several baffling errors on smashes and sitting forehands that allowed the hapless "X-man" to hang around a set that really should have ended as a 6-0 20-minute rout.
Though its tough to criticize anyone for a straight sets grand slam victory, Roger simply did not deliver the focused master-class performance that many hoped for.
As a result, the questions and rumblings reemerged.
Where is the insurmountable combination of aggression and accuracy that we saw in London and Doha?
Why is Federer treating third-round major matches like hitting sessions?
Where are these mid-match shank-fests coming from?
As if this was not troubling enough, the road to No. 17 seems to become more ominous by the day, with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Robin Soderling, Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych cruising through their respective draws with impressive ease. Quite simply, Roger's once cemented status as co-favorite Down Under has become a tad shakier in recent days.
With a loaded field of top seeds still alive, it's going to take Federer's very best to win it all in Melbourne, a form that has abruptly gone AWOL over the last eight sets of tennis.
For these reasons, many viewed Fed's fourth-round match against Tommy Robredo as a crucial last-minute litmus test. Things are about to get more difficult in the quarters, and since Federer owns the relatively weapon-less Robredo to the tune of a 9-0 match record (21-2 sets), this was the time to regain form and confidence.
And that he did.
Federer overcame a lackluster second set—and a strong-serving Robredo—to advance to a record-tying 27th consecutive major quarterfinal, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Federer hit 50 winners and 10 aces en route to the four set win, in which he was only broken once.
He started the match with a ruthless efficiency in his service game, not dropping a single point on serve in the entire first set.
But Robredo upped his game significantly in the second, and much like he did against Simon, Federer momentarily wilted in the face of resistance.
He began spraying flat-footed errors around the court and missing first serves in a very sloppy second set. Robredo, on the other hand, served brilliantly, only losing one service point the entire second set on the way to tying the match one set a piece.
Things almost got scary for Fed at the beginning of the third, as a bad backhand error created a 15-30 opening for Robredo on Roger's first service game of the set. But Roger clamped down with three straight winners to save face, and then played a brilliant return game to break and go up 2-0. Roger fended off a break point in his next service game and eventually served out the set, winning 6-3 with the lone break of the frame.
Then, as he so often does with a lead, Federer turned into the Swiss Maestro in the fourth, breaking Robredo twice and never facing a break point on the strength of a litany of brilliant shots.
Fed hit his first 13 first serves of the set and finally exhibited the form that he'll need to win nine more sets and a fifth Australian Open title.
Despite the troubling lapse in the second, Federer played a relatively clean and aggressive match, hitting 10 more winners than errors, making 69 percent of his first serves and winning 36 of 50 points at the net. Robredo wasn't too shabby himself, winning 72 percent of points on first serves and hitting seven more winners than errors.
Though a lull like he had in the second may cost dearly against an elite opponent in the second week, Roger has to feel better about his form and aggression ratio after that superb fourth set. A tip of the hat to Robredo, too, who put up a nice little fight against his long-time tormentor.
Here is my point by point breakdown of the match. Enjoy.
Federer serves first and starts with a bang, hitting three aces and holding at love.
Robredo answers by holding at 15, with Federer donating two consecutive forehand errors to even the score at 1.
Federer proceeds with another merciless hold at love that included an ace, service winner and crafty backhand volley to cause a Robredo error to make it 2-1.
The next Robredo service game begins with an entertaining rally that goes to Federer after he causes a Robredo error with a backhand volley, 0-15.
Federer then plays Robredo's second serve passively, allowing Robredo to grab control of the point and force a Federer forehand error to even it up at 15-15.
Federer then commits another forehand error to fall down 30-15. He plays a very solid point to tie it up at 30-30, with a strong return and two rocket back hands to cause a Robredo forehand error.
At 30-30, Federer seizes control of the point with a wicked forehand return of a second serve which eventually leads to a long Robredo forehand, 30-40, the first break point of the match.
Robredo, however, saves the break point, as Federer passes up a chance to take control of the point with some passive play and eventually commits a long forehand error, deuce.
At deuce, Roger plays a great point and controls the rally, but overshoots a forehand approach shot, advantage Robredo. Robredo wins the game after Fed hits a weak backhand return of a second serve, and Robredo hammers a forehand to cause a Federer forehand error into the net. Robredo holds, 2-2.
Federer serves at 2-2, goes up 15-0 with a service winner, 30-0 with his fifth ace, 40-0 with a service winner and holds at love with a first serve-forehand winner combo. 3-2, on serve.
Robredo, serving at 2-3, goes down 0-15 as Federer plays a brilliant opening point, booming several strong forehands to set up a nice backhand volley winner. A strong return right back at Robredo causes an error by the Spaniard, 0-30.
Robredo hits a service winner to make it 15-30, before a frustrating backhand error from Federer evens the score at 30-30. Robredo aces for 40-30, and then a strong forehand approach shot causes a forehand error by Robredo, deuce.
Robredo gains control of the deuce point with a first serve and a strong forehand, causing a Federer error. Robredo closes the game out with a fast first serve and an overhead winner at net, 3-3. Fed had an opening at 0-30, but the backhand error at 15-30 cost him a chance at the break.
After Robredo scratched and clawed to hold, Federer breezes through his service game with four service winners for a hold at love. 4-3, Federer.
Serving at 3-4, Robredo seemed as if he was en route to his fourth consecutive hold, as he raced out to a 40-15 lead. But at 40-15, Federer played a brilliant point and a long, entertaining rally culminated in an inside-out forehand winner from Federer.
Then, Robredo doesn't do enough with his approach shot, setting Roger up for a great forehand passing shot for deuce. At deuce, Federer plays another brilliant point, keeping himself alive with impeccable defense before hitting a brilliant forehand winner, his 11th winner of the set.
At break point, Federer finally gets the break as Robredo nets a forehand to fall behind 3-5. Both at deuce and break points, Robredo had opportunities to crush short balls from Federer and follow the approaches to the net, but decided to retreat to the baseline both times, which cost him.
Either way, this was a wildly entertaining game with fascinating rallies.
Serving to close out the set, Roger holds at love with a Robredo error, a brilliant up the line forehand winner, an ace and a service winner to close it out, 6-3.
The set lasted 32 minutes. Federer did not lose a single point on serve.
First Serve %: Federer 75%, Robredo 41%
Aces: Federer 6, Robredo 0
Winners: Federer 13, Robredo 2
Unforced Errors: Federer 5, Robredo 7
Break Point Conversion: Federer 1/2, Robredo 0/0
Net Points: Federer 8/10, Robredo 3/5
Points: Federer 32, Robredo 17
Robredo starts out the second set with a hold at 15 with the following progression: service winner, service winner, service winner, Federer with a brilliant reflex forehand volley to open court to make it 40-15, and Federer hits a forehand long, 1-0 Robredo.
Roger also holds at 15 with an ace, a forehand error to make it 15-15, a service winner, a first serve wide-forehand winner combo to make it 40-15, and then a crushed forehand winner down the line after a second serve, 1-1.
Robredo, serving at 1-1, goes up 15-0 as Federer misses a forehand passing shot wide. The second point of the game is a great one, ending with a Federer backhand error to make it 30-0.
Robredo grabs control of the next service point from the get-go and Federer just barely misses what would have been a spectacular backhand passer long, 40-0. Robredo closes it out with a service winner to hold at love. 2-1, Robredo.
Serving at 1-2, Federer begins with a nice first wide serve-forehand winner combination to go up 15-0. The next point is an interesting one, as Federer takes control of the point with a bevy of forehands, but an approaching Robredo responds with an incredible cross-court passing winner, 15-15.
Robredo wins the next point by crushing a second serve return and following it up with a forehand winner, 15-30. An opening for Robredo here at 15-30.
Wow, Robredo lets Fed off the hook here. Federer hits a first serve, but then smokes an approach shot directly at Robredo despite having an open court with which to put it away. Robredo, however, can't handle the pace and nets the reply, 30-30.
Federer paints the back line with a serve and prompts a long return from Robredo, 40-30. Federer holds with an amazing down the line backhand winner to finish a lengthy rally, 2-2. Robredo had an opportunity there—Fed's service level dropped there for a bit with a bunch of second serves.
Serving at 2-2, Robredo calls up a service winner to go up 15-0. Then, on a second serve, Fed tries to attack with an all-or-nothing forehand return, but dumps it into the net, 30-0. A first serve out wide causes a Federer error to go up 40-0, and Robredo holds at love with a cross-court winner, 3-2, Robredo.
Serving at 2-3, Federer goes up 15-0 with the combo that we saw in Doha a lot: a well-placed serve wide followed by a cross-court backhand winner.
Federer goes up 30-0 when he hits a nice first serve up the middle and then hits a poor drop shot that Robredo almost hits into the upper deck with an error.
Federer then achieves a second-serve service winner to go up 40-0. Robredo claws to 40-15 with a nice counterpunch off Federer's cross-court backhand, but Federer closes it out with a service winner wide, 3-3.
Serving at 3-3, Robredo goes up 15-0 with an assertive volley winner. Federer only has one point on Robredo's serve the entire set—amazing. Federer falls behind 30-0 after netting a backhand following an excellent rally.
Federer is extremely angry at himself after that one.
Robredo hits a service winner to go up 40-0. Robredo closes it out when Federer goes for broke on a second serve return with a down the line forehand return wide. Robredo, 4-3.
Serving at 3-4, Federer begins sloppily with a forehand long, 0-15. Things are tense for Federer as he double faults to make it 0-30. Huge opening for Robredo here.
Federer hits a first serve out wide and Robredo's return barely clips the net, 15-30. At 15-30, Robredo doesn't do enough with a Federer second serve, as he returns it short and in the middle of the court, setting Federer up for a forehand down the line, which causes a Robredo error, 30-30.
Wow, Federer is faltering big time here.
At 30-30, he has control of the entire point, but hits an approach shot right at Robredo before badly missing a backhand volley wide. First break point for Robredo here. And Robredo breaks as Federer hits a terrible forehand error off of Robredo's return.
Just a perplexing sloppy service game for Federer, Robredo up, 5-3.
Robredo, serving for the set at 5-3, gets a little help to start the game off, as Federer clubs a backhand into the first row for 15-0. Robredo proceeds with a service winner to go up 30-0, but then donates a forehand error, 30-15.
Federer, however, again commits a very frustrating error, a backhand into the net, setting up two set points for Robredo at 40-15. Federer saves the first set point by controlling the point and hitting a backhand smash winner, 30-40.
Federer fights back to deuce with a nice backhand return, which sets up a bad Robredo forehand error. Federer squanders the deuce opening with a very poor forehand error. It was a shame too, as Fed hit a beautiful backhand slice return off of Robredo's serve, but just came up small in a big spot.
Federer ends the very sub-par set with a very sub-par forehand into the net, Robredo wins the 32-minute set 6-3, with one break.
First Serve %: Federer 59 %, Robredo 76%
Aces: Federer 1, Robredo 0
Double Faults: Federer 1, Robredo 0
Errors: Federer 14, Robredo 1
Winners: Federer 9, Robredo 4
Break Points: Federer 0/0, Robredo 1/1
Net Points: Federer 4/6, Robredo 5/7
Points: Federer 18, Robredo 29
Extremely tense moments to start the third set for Federer. Serving at 15-15, Roger hits another poor backhand error. VERY sloppy play from Federer for the last couple sets, 15-30.
But Roger rebounds with a very nice backhand volley winner under pressure, a service winner and a gorgeous inside-out forehand winner. Federer holds at 30 despite the early scare, 1-0.
Serving at 0-1, Robredo elicits a backhand return into the net, 15-0. Federer evens the score at 15 with a beautiful forehand cross-court counter-punch winner.
But then Roger gives it right back with a supremely frustrating backhand error on which he tried to generate too much spin and shot it wide, 30-15.
Robredo gets a little shaky here with his first double fault, 30-30, small opening for Federer at 30-30.
Wow—Federer earns a break point with an amazing down the line backhand winner off of a Robredo cross-court backhand. Incredible how he turned the trajectory of the ball from a cross-court shot to a down the line missile with his backhand, 30-40, break point.
Robredo saves the break point with a body serve right at Federer, deuce. Federer earns another break point with another brilliant combination: a down-the-line backhand into a cross-court backhand, which causes a Robredo error. Advantage, Federer.
But Robredo erases it again, as Federer hits a meek backhand return into the net, deuce. Advantage Robredo, as he pushes Fed around with a bunch of heavy forehands.
Federer gets back to deuce thanks to an ill-timed Robredo forehand error. Federer then achieves another break point off of an amazing rally which ends in a Federer volley winner.
Federer began the point with a great forehand return down the line, and then fended off several passing shots at the net before hitting a stick-save volley winner for the break point. Then, at break point, Robredo chokes and nets a volley, Federer breaks to go up 2-0.
Serving at 2-0, Federer tries to consolidate his hard-fought break. He secures the lead by luring Robredo to the net with a drop shot and then volleys Robredo's reply into the open court.
Federer hands the lead right back by badly butchering his serve and volley attempt, 15-15. Then, at 15-15, Federer grabs control of the point with a bunch of inside-out forehands and ends it with a well-carved drop shot, 30-15.
Federer again hands the lead right back with a backhand error wide, and then creates a break opportunity for Robredo with a missed forehand, tense times at 30-40.
Federer fights back to deuce by smartly letting Robredo's attempted passing shot go long as opposed to trying a tricky volley. Advantage, Federer, who hits a first serve followed by an overhead smash winner.
Robredo fights back to deuce with a spectacular back hand cross-court return winner. Federer ruthlessly hits an ace to gain the advantage, and then holds with a net error by Robredo. Squandered opportunity by Robredo there, as Federer missed a lot of first serves. 3-0 Federer.
Robredo responds with a very routine service hold: a passing shot off of a Roger chip and charge attempt, 15-0, a solid rally ends with a Robredo backhand long, 15-15, a service error for Robredo, 30-15, a Federer forehand error, 40-15, a service winner and Robredo holds at 15, 3-1 Federer.
Serving at 3-1, Federer hits a service winner to go up 15-0 and then hits a bad forehand long, 15-15. Robredo then barely misses a potentially brilliant cross-court backhand passing shot, 30-15.
Federer then hits a nice down the line backhand to cause a Robredo error, 40-15. Federer then commits a frustrating forehand error after a first serve had set him up with an open court, 40-30.
Robredo crushes a down the line forehand winner, deuce. Robredo nets a forehand return into the net, advantage Federer. Robredo nets an unforced forehand error, game Federer. 4-1.
Robredo again holds very easily with two aces and a service winner, 4-2 Federer.
Serving at 4-2, Federer holds a little more comfortably, at 15 this time. Federer begins with a service winner, then prompts a Robredo error into the net with a quick approach shot, then nets Robredo's service reply to make it 30-15 before hitting two more service winners, 5-2 Federer.
Serving at 2-5, Robredo starts the game off with a conservative, yet compelling rally with Federer. Robredo nets a shot to end the rally and go down 0-15.
Robredo follows this with a very impressive point in which he pushes Federer around with forehand after forehand before eventually ending it with a crackling winner.
Robredo again pushes Federer around to go up 30-15, hitting an overhead smash. Robredo is serving very well again. Federer returns and charges to cause a Robredo error, 30-30. Robredo continues to serve well and ends the game with two consecutive volley winners, 5-3 Federer.
Serving for the set at 5-3, Federer gets frustrated with some great Robredo defense and hits a bad forehand error, 0-15.
Tiny opening for Robredo to get back into the set.
Federer clamps down with a down the middle first serve followed by a forehand winner. Robredo again applies pressure with a very good rally, which ends in another forehand error from Federer, tense moments again at 15-30.
Wow...Fed hits a first serve, Robredo responds with a quirky floating return, and Federer hits a very difficult swinging volley winner to tie it at 30-30. Another wow, as Federer caps a brilliant rally with a great backhand drop volley, which Robredo almost takes Federer's head off with as his desperate reply sails long. Set point for Federer.
Federer blows the set point with a backhand error off the frame, deuce. And Federer closes the set out with two straight service winners, as Robredo's return game fails him when he needs it most, capping a pretty tough 45-minute set. Two sets to 1, Federer.
First Serve %: Federer 59%, Robredo 66%
Aces: Federer 1, Robredo 2
Double Faults: Federer 0, Robredo 1
Winners: Federer 12, Robredo 11
Unforced Errors: Federer 12, Robredo 7
Break Points: Federer 1/3, Robredo 0/1
Net Points: Federer 13/16, Robredo 4/7
Returning from a bathroom break, Robredo serves to start the fourth set. Robredo goes up 15-0 with a service winner before a Federer net cord return makes for an awkward shot for Robredo, which Tommy nets, 15-15.
Robredo goes up 30-15 when Federer doesn't do enough with a volley and Robredo smashes a cross-court forehand winner.
Federer ties the score at 30 with a return right at Robredo's feet. A Federer backhand error and an ace seals the hold for Robredo, 1-0.
Federer proceeds to hold very smoothly, with an ace, a first serve wide/winner into open court combination, a great lunging volley winner at the net, and a great wide first serve followed by an overhead smash. Federer holds at love. 1-1.
Robredo, serving at 1-1, goes down 0-15 when Federer caps an amazing rally off with an impeccable inside out forehand winner. Federer goes up 0-30 when another great rally ends with a Robredo error, 0-30.
This could be the match.
Three break points as Federer stabs and makes a backhand stick save, which Robredo blasts into the net with an approach shot. Federer misses on an all-or-nothing second serve return, 15-40.
A clutch serve by Robredo makes it 30-40, but Federer frustrates Robredo with a nice floating return, which Tommy hits long. Federer up a set and a break.
Looking to consolidate the break, Federer serves at 2-1. But Robredo starts the game off with a pretty backhand passing shot to go up 0-15.
Another great point ends in a Robredo forehand into the net, and Federer goes up 30-15 with a beautiful serve down the middle/overhead smash combo. Federer goes up 40-15 when, after he hits an insanely casual drop volley, he hits a backhand winner off of Robredo's reply.
Federer pays for another casual play when he nets a lackadaisical drop volley to make it 40-30.
We're at deuce after Federer misses a potential down the line forehand winner. After successfully challenging an incorrect fault call on his first serve, Federer blasts a service winner for an advantage, but Robredo clubs back to deuce with an excellent forehand winner despite great defense by Federer.
Now, Roger is complaining to the chair umpire in French. Federer gains an advantage when he hammers home a volley. Roger has made all 13 first serves this set —remarkable.
And on that note, Federer misses a first serve and we're back at deuce as a brilliant running forehand winner by Robredo clips the back line. Federer gains an advantage with a first serve plus drop shot combination, and then holds when he hits a first serve and then plucks Robredo's response out of the air for another drop shot winner.
Unreal. 3-1 Federer.
Serving at 1-3, Robredo begins with an ace, and then goes up 30-0 when Federer nets a backhand volley. Robredo misses an inside-out forehand for 15-30.
Amazing point for Federer, as he turns around a body serve with a strange contorted overhead return, which of course leads to a down the line backhand winner, 30-30.
Federer hits a backhand and then charges to the net, which causes a Robredo error. Another break point, this time for the double break and, essentially, the match.
Robredo comes up big with an ace to get it back to deuce, but then Fed crushes a forehand return of a second serve to gain control of the point and earn another break point.
Federer gets the double break when he hits a great backhand return that ties Robredo up for an error, 4-1 Federer.
Now we're in full flight Federer mode, as he goes up 15-0 with a ridiculous inside-out forehand winner. After he misses a serve and volley for 15-15, he queues up an ace, a service winner and an absurd down the line counter-punch winner.
The Fed Express is back.
Robredo is serving to stay in the match at 1-5, but it's not looking good, as Federer goes up 15-0 with a crazy cross-court forehand winner that clips the line. But Robredo takes control of the next point and hits an overhead winner for 15-15. Robredo gets to 30-15 with a beautiful first serve wide to cross-court back-hand winner combination.
Federer claws back to 30-30 with a beautiful floating return that lands right on the line, which Robredo sends into the net.
Robredo then takes the game with a forehand winner off of his first serve, followed by a Federer backhand error. 5-2 Federer.
Serving for the match, Federer falls down 0-15 when a Robredo return is too hot for Roger to volley. But Federer pulls even with a ridiculous drop volley winner. Then Federer inches ahead with a service winner, and goes up 40-15 with a hard down the line backhand that Robredo can't handle.
Match point number one for Roger. Game, set, match Federer as Robredo misses a potential forehand winner.
Federer wins 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
First Serve %: Federer 69%, Robredo 62%
Aces: Federer 10, Robredo 6
Double Faults: Federer 1, Robredo 1
Unforced Errors: Federer 40, Robredo 21
Winning % on First Serves: Federer 79%, Robredo 72%
Winning % on Second Serves: Federer 61%, Robredo 49%
Winners: Federer 50, Robredo 28
Break Points: Federer 4/10, Robredo 1/2
Total Points: Federer 117, Robredo 97
All in all, a solid performance for Federer against a surprisingly competitive opponent. There were flashes of brilliance in the first and fourth sets, and some bad lulls in the second and third sets. It was more than enough to beat Robredo, but Roger will need to clean his game up even further to nab No. 17 Down Under.