A regulation victory with a sprinkle of that Roger Federer magic, and a seventh win over Denis Istomin without dropping a set: the defending champion’s bid for an Australian Open hat-trick began at a canter with a 6-3 6-4 6-4 win on Monday night.
The six-time champion’s first-round victory was his 15th successive match win at Melbourne Park, a run that stretches back to his stunning return from knee surgery in 2017, through his successful title defence last year, and now into the 2019 campaign.
It’s the 37-year-old’s longest winning streak at Melbourne Park since his 19 in a row between 2006 and the 2008 semifinals – a run that began against Istomin. British qualifier Daniel Evans awaits the Swiss in the second round.
“I’m very happy with my first round, to be honest,” Federer said. “It’s been great. Felt the ball really good.
“I protected my serve well, didn’t allow Denis really to get into my service games very often. I was always in the lead, as well. Obviously that helps. I can free swing maybe a little bit more. At the same time I think I have to do some defense, some offense. It was a bit of everything.”
It was not the perfect performance from Federer – a first-serve percentage of 56 will not sit well with the 20-time Grand Slam champion – but it was enough to deny Istomin a sliver of opportunity. The world No.99 was denied a single break point over the course of the one-hour, 57-minute contest on Rod Laver Arena.
“I can trust my second serve in particular,” Federer said. “When you trust your second serve, you can go after your first serve. I have good variation, to be quite honest. This court plays slightly different to the Hopman Cup. At the Hopman Cup also I served very well.
“I think I can be happy how I got out of the blocks from the off-season. That’s always the most tricky part: how do you get through your service games time and time again, because if you don’t get broken much, or hardly ever, not at all, you have so little pressure on the return games, you can really try out different things.
“I started to feel that midway through the first set already that it was going to be difficult for Denis to get into my service games. That relaxes you from the baseline. Then good things really happen.”
Federer struck early in each set, clinching breaks in the fourth game of a quickfire opening set and in the third game of the second, a passage of play lit up by a jaw-dropping backhand pass played blind after chasing a cross-court volley.
The chance to open up a two-break lead came and went for the No.3 seed, but even as Istomin dug in on serve, he could not halt Federer’s momentum. A six-minute game early in the third finally went the way of the defending champion for a 3-2 lead on serve, and the damage was done inside two hours.
If Istomin was the first casualty of one Federer’s previous streaks on Australian soil, Evans is arguably features in its latest iteration. The Briton, who beat fellow qualifier Tatsuma Ito to reach the second round, was the 37-year-old’s first opponent at the Hopman Cup in 2017 – the maiden match of his feted comeback.
“It was a good match – I liked the way he played,” said Federer, who also faced Evans at the same stage at Wimbledon in 2016. “He’s got all the shots, likes to take chances, takes the ball early. It’s nice to see him back on the tour as well. I’m happy for him that he won his first round.”
Source: Michael Beattie