MELBOURNE – A scene from a movie called “The Third Man” made a damning comment about the Swiss.
The man speaking was the famed actor Orson Welles: “In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
“The Third Man” was released 32 years before Roger Federer was born. Little did its makers know that Federer would obliterate the idea that his homeland’s greatest creative contribution was a mildly amusing timepiece. Leave it to Federer to take the very concept of time to new, textured levels.
Begin with time and the tournament. Through week one, there had been the invariable surprises, as well as near-crippling weather last Thursday and Friday and, to the consternation of everyone but the tennis-happy spectators, long matches that had backed up the schedule. Many a night, the evening session had started a good hour later than planned.
At approximately 3:30 p.m. this Monday afternoon, Federer entered Rod Laver Arena for his fourth-round match versus Marton Fucsovics of Hungary. Fucsovics was the accidental tourist, a man ranked No. 80 in the world, who had been 3-3 at the majors prior to this year’s Australian Open.
Just 24 hours earlier, the same court had been the place for a match between Rafael Nadal and Diego Schwartzman that conjured up gladiatorial imagery; of bullfights and boxers, warriors and heroism.
To which Federer might reply: Who needs will when you have skill? Leave all that excess energy aside, please. Step into the doctor’s office. He will attend your case shortly. He will be kind. And yes, he has read all the latest literature on you and your condition. Though nary a soul had heard of Fucsovics, Federer had practiced with him a number of times, including playing a best-of-five sets match.
There was many a fine rally in the first set, Fucsovics striking his share of reasonable groundstrokes. With Fucsovics serving at 4-5, the signal arrived from doctor to patient: Sorry I kept you waiting. Soon there came the decisive service break.
Fucsovics fared even better in the second set, his 13 winners helping him extend it to a tiebreaker. Fucsovics’ career tiebreaker record prior was a discouraging 6-16. Federer’s was 417-224. Experience, skill, pace, movement—the entire exam crashed downwards for Fucsovics, Federer handily winning the tiebreaker, 7-3. The third set, a formality, Federer dropping just two games.
Said Federer, “The goal for me was really trying to be focused on my own game and take it to him and play tough. But he hung with me for a long time. So it was a good match.”
Call Federer a tennis taxidermist. His opponent will be laid out on the table, probed, carved, dismembered, stuffed and eventually mounted. Federer’s stylistic ancestor, Ken Rosewall, the Australian maestro who won this title four times (including a pair at the age of 36 and 37), had a similar clinical efficiency. Nicknamed “The Doomsday Stroking Machine,” Rosewall’s game was often described as “the death of a thousand cuts.”
Even when Federer’s plays more accomplished, harder-hitting rivals than Fucsovics, there is an air of civility to the entire process. No one gets hurt. They just get killed. In a timely fashion. For further evidence, ask Tomas Berdych. Though Berdych has beaten Federer on six occasions, including victories at Wimbledon and the US Open, Federer’s won 19. The two met here last year, Federer winning 6-2, 6-4, 6-4. That one had only take 90 minutes. Today’s win over Fucsovics had taken a minute past two hours. The cuckoo clock? It merely keeps time. But Federer—well, he makes time.
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