Roger Federer relief after winning intense battle at Austalian Open
Roger Federer was delighted to have come through an intense clash with big-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic and secure his place in the fourth round of the Australian Open today.
The Swiss lived dangerously in a tight first set before winning 7-6 (8/6) 7-5 6-3. It was a match dominated by big serving with break-point chances few and far between but Federer's greater class off the floor proved decisive as he claimed the opportunities which came his way.
The paucity of rallies meant the 16-time grand slam winner failed to get a true assessment of the state of his game but his ability to perform when it counts remains intact.
He said: "I think it was important to face the pressure of facing a guy like Ivo who can serve his way out of trouble and keeps you on your heels the whole time.
"You're not quite sure what's going to happen. If you miss one or two minutes of the game, the next thing you know, you're stuck in a fifth set with more pressure.
"So I think that was a good thing.
"Obviously there was not much baseline tennis out there. That's why it's hard to judge where my game is at, but I was in control.
"It was a good day at the office."
Karlovic, at 6ft 10in, posed the Swiss the usual conundrum of how to break his formidable serve.
And for almost two sets, Federer failed to find the answer.
Indeed, having taken the first set to a tie-break, Karlovic earned a set point at 6-5 only for the world number three to produce a bit of magic to reach a mis-hit volley, which just dropped over the net, and clip a clever lob over his towering opponent.
A wonderful backhand return then handed Federer a set point of his own and he made no mistake to edge in front.
"It was a tough tie-break for me," admitted Federer, "with him having the chance to serve it out at 6-5.
"Thank God he gave me a second serve and a slight chance. He might have had a lucky volley but he has quick reflexes so that can happen. Then running up there I didn't know what to do so I tried the lob even though that's not what you are supposed to do against him.
"I got the angle right and was able to surprise him. It kind of worked and then I had a great return after that and was almost home."
It took Federer until the 25th game of the match to create a break point of his own and when he did it was a set point. Karlovic saved the first but there was no denying the Swiss second time round as a Karlovic volley under pressure drifted long.
It looked a long road back for the Croatian and although he saved three break points at 0-1 in the third, he could not repeat the feat when Federer threatened again at 1-2 and the Swiss subsequently served it out.
"I thought it was going to be at least one tie-break if not two so one is good," Federer added.
"He's a tough man to play against. I am happy I found a way today and I am happy to be through."
Rafael Nadal preceded Federer on Rod Laver Arena and delivered the "complete match" in beating Lukas Lacko.
World number two Nadal was pushed early on by the Slovakian qualifier but once he upped his level, Lacko was powerless to stave off a 6-2 6-4 6-2 defeat in just under two hours.
"It was a really complete match, a really solid one. I'm very happy about my game," said the Spaniard, who has made untroubled progress into the last 16.
"Being in the fourth round without losing a set, it's fantastic news."
There will be no American in the last 16 in Melbourne for the first time in the open era following John Isner's defeat to Feliciano Lopez.
The Spaniard edged out the big-serving 16th seed 6-3 6-7 (3/7) 6-4 6-7 (0/7) 6-1 in almost three and a half hours.
"I think overall the match was great for me," said Lopez.
"You just try to focus when you serve because one break against John is probably the set. And so to play the way I did I have to be happy as he is a really difficult player to play."
Seventh seed Tomas Berdych beat South African Kevin Anderson 7-6 (7/5) 7-6 (7/1) 6-1 while 10th seed Nicolas Almagro overcame a strangely out-of-sorts Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6 (7/2) 6-2 6-4.