Melbourne: As the Australian Open lurched into the second week bereft of glamour and with the cavernous arenas resounding with the triumphant screeches of unknown upstarts, one Swiss stalwart looks set to write once again an old script we had assumed he had lost.
Roger Federer was not at his imperial best, but he out-thought, out-manoeuvred and finally outlasted Japan’s Kei Nishikori in a five-setter to set his eyes again on a Grand Slam title after what looks like ages.
Without Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, whose ambitions lay buried in the debris of Week 1, the Australian Open now looks set for a re-run of a Federer-Nadal classic.
Seedings made no sense as the women’s top seed Angelique Kerber, too, was vanquished and, even on a bright and sunny Sunday here, one could hear gloomy elegies being sung.
Murray, looking distraught and running his hand frequently through his thinning hair, told pressmen in a stoic tone that anyway it was going to be tough for him and that “ranking is irrelevant here. I never thought of it”.
By Sunday evening though, the surging beer-soaked crowds at the venue — comprising three huge indoor stadia and more than 20 courts spread around — were getting used to pronouncing the names of 50th-ranked Mischa Zverve, who got through the defences of Murray in a four-setter, and the 35th-ranked woman player from Sante Fe California, Coco Vandeweghe, who sent Kerber home.
In the men’s event, the surprise came from players who were keen on showing that baseline slugfests may not be enough any longer.