Australian Open 2015: Fresh Federer makes vibrant start with win 1001

Roger Federer opens his Australian Open campaign with a straight-sets win over Yen-Hsun Lu

For a man who played and won more matches and reached more finals last year than any of his colleagues, who challenged for No1, who then won a first Davis Cup, played a winning part in the IPTL, and closed 2014 with a charity match back home in Switzerland, Roger Federer started 2015 with quite a statement.

From his training block in Dubai to his 83rd title and 1,000th match-win in Brisbane, to Play4Tennis in Sydney with Lleyton Hewitt, the well-oiled Federer machine powered on towards Melbourne for the first Grand Slam of the year.

No doubt the Federer engine has pounded away under the surface, yet the relaxed Swiss exterior is more than just a front. With four Federer kids in his player’s box, he was the life and soul of the party come Kids’ Day at Melbourne Park on Saturday, as big a kid as anyone in the arena—including teenage Aussies Nick Kyrigios and Thanasi Kokkinakis on the other side of the net.

Federer, too, is talking of calmness, of security and of confidence—a rather different set of emotions from those of a year ago when he arrived in Australia after a year of back injury, losses and draining confidence. This time last year, he was also breaking in a new bigger racket, and refining his tactics and net-game under mentor Stefan Edberg.

All that, in a tennis player’s 33rd year and with almost every box in his sport ticked, is a lot to take on. But it has all come together, as he always seemed certain it would.

Ahead of his opening match this week, he reflected on that intervening year.

“Clearly things are more calm this year. Last year, having the new racket, having gotten through the back issues, having gone through the off-season feeling good but still not quite sure, I came here with Stefan Edberg helping me out. There were many changes in the six months leading into the Australian Open, whereas this time around I’ve played so well. Also was able to win Brisbane. Makes me feel more secure this year coming into the Aussie Open.”

So from being a man who many predicted to be in decline, Federer has once again become one of the favourites for the title, with many now of the opinion that he is playing close to his best-ever level.

“Well I would hope that over the years I’ve always improved. I think I’m serving more consistent and stronger than I ever have. I definitely think the racket has helped me with that a little bit. But, you know, my concentration I do believe is there, better than it’s ever been, at least I hope it is… I think my backhand is working better than it has in the past as well. The question is confidence, forehand, movement.

“I feel I’m playing very well. If it’s the best ever, I’m not quite sure.”

Confidence married to fitness is certainly a potent combination in Federer’s hands, and especially at the Australian Open. The statistics he has stacked up since his first visit to Melbourne at the start of the century are remarkable. From that first appearance as an 18-year-old, Federer has never fallen short of the third round, and for the last 11 years, he has reached at least the semi-finals, winning the title four times.

Should he win again this year—and he clearly believes he can or, as he said in Brisbane, “I would go home”—he would become only the second man after Roy Emerson to reach five titles.

And should Federer win, he would close the gap on that No1 ranking, though if Novak Djokovic fell short of the fourth round, the Swiss would gain the top spot with the Australia title.

By the end of the first day at Melbourne Park, Federer had taken his first step towards those goals, and with tennis just as vibrant as his shirt.

Dayglo brights have emerged early as the theme for this year’s tournament, and few figures were brighter than Federer’s in brilliant lemon and lime.

His ball-striking, movement and attack were as full of zest as his outfit, so despite a spirited effort from the No47-ranked Yen-Hsun Lu, the match was done and dusted, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5, in an hour and 52mins.

Here was Federer willing and able to take on the attack, even against his opponent’s serve. He hit 57 winners and made 30 points at the net from 43 approaches—an appropriate birthday present to the courtside Edberg.

So the perfectly balanced Federer how has a perfectly balanced number by his name, 1001, and that has extended several existing milestones.

It marks his 61st consecutive Major—already a record. It is his 280th Grand Slam match-win, 47 more than the next man in the Open era, Jimmy Connors. It is his 74th Australian match-win, 18 more than the second in the Open era, Edberg.

Federer’s route to those end-prizes, however, is via a difficult section of the draw, though the No15 seed Tommy Robredo, a potential fourth-round opponent, retired injured.

Federer next faces Simone Bolelli, who beat Juan Monaco, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. Beyond him lies No29 seed Jeremy Chardy, who has taken Federer the full distance in three previous meetings and beat him in Rome last year. Chardy first takes on Andreas Seppi.

All the remaining seeds, Ivo Karlovic, Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin, Martin Klizan and Andy Murray, also advanced to the second round.

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