So the paragon lost his immaculate record here yesterday, dropping his first set of the tournament. That was in a tie-break, admittedly, but once he had retrieved control of his match with Mikhail Youzhny, Roger Federer even had his serve broken. By then he was 5-1 up in the third, and Youzhny had more or less resorted to closing his eyes and going for broke. There may be something to be said for that: he promptly passed Federer three times.
The six-times champion had already become so relaxed that he had reprised one of his party tricks, flicking a lob from the baseline back between his legs. It might have drifted out, but Youzhny was so taken aback that he obediently smashed it into the net.
Federer then raced to three break points in the first game of the fourth set – and his opponent once again obliged him by stopping play to make an incorrect appeal on a line call. The Russian did save two match points, the second with a fearless ace, but after three hours, which he reckoned "fun", Federer had won 6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
The fact remains, however, that Youzhny had provided a straw at which Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will gladly clutch: he had turned around the tie-break, from 1-4 to 7-5. Tsonga will have seen how tenacity, experience and a solid backhand kept him competitive there, and can himself be expected to introduce a touch more flair to proceedings.
"It's going to be good tennis," Federer assented. "Tsonga has the weapons to be a huge threat on grass, to make a run here."
For now, however, the elite four are coming to the boil with perfect timing. Novak Djokovic continues in remorseless form, flaying Michael Llodra 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in 101 minutes. Llodra's three Grand Slam doubles titles include the one he won here with Arnaud Clément in 2007. But there was no way he was ever going to win this on his own.
The match was as good as over inside three minutes, by which time Djokovic was 2-0 up and the Frenchman had come up with three double faults while dropping serve to love. But at least he resolved thereafter that even a mismatch need not be dull. With his willingness for adventure, he drew some outrageous tennis from the No 2 seed. Llodra's own wit, when it came off, guaranteed the full repertoire from his opponent. There were times when it did feel like a doubles. Nostalgics will have loved it. Llodra's serve-and-volley ratio was an outlandish 55 per cent, and came off 20 times in 37 attempts.
Djokovic, needless to say, was hardly taken outside his comfort zone, and palpably raised his game at 4-3 in the third when storm clouds menaced. With some wily deceptions and ravenous court coverage, he promptly broke Llodra's serve and then closed out to love. All told, the Serbian remains on a terrifying streak, and guarantees an exacting measure of the sensational Australian teenager, Bernard Tomic.
"Bernard has a great talent," Djokovic said. "He believes he can win against the top players and loves the fast surfaces, with these flat shots he has. He doesn't give you a lot of time. He can be very dangerous, because he doesn't have anything to lose, really."Reuse content