Roger Federer must surely believe 2012 will be his year again.
His considerable pride has absorbed a few bruises since his last slam title, here two years ago, but a surge that gathered strength at the end of 2011 – just reward for his astute management of the most envied physical machine in tennis – has carried into the first major of the new year with all the inevitability of a scheduled tide.
The 30-year-old former world No1, in defiance of many predictions, has pushed himself back towards where he feels most comfortable, above the herd.
He is not quite there yet. He still has Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in front of him and it is yet to be seen if he can recover from losing to the Serb (who broke his heart in New York) better than Nadal has done over the past 12 months. The Spaniard has admitted losing in six finals to Djokovic was tough.
So, after a couple of tumultuous days on and off the court in Melbourne, Federer must have allowed himself at least a wry smile on day three of the Australian Open.
Not only had he put his rift with Nadal to bed and garnered accolades for his diplomacy in the ongoing dispute about the Tour schedule, but, when his close friend Andreas Beck withdrew in the morning with a back injury, the Swiss got a walkover through to the third round, thus avoiding a visit to the outside court in the Hisense Arena, which would have brought to an end a run of 52 consecutive matches on Rod Laver. Federer is most comfortable on centre stage, and that is the way the draw invariably falls for him in big tournaments.
"I would have loved to play," Federer said. "I feel sorry for the fans, who were excited to see me on Hisense today. I was ready to go."
Federer then learned that a dangerous rival in his section of the draw, the eighth seed Mardy Fish, had collapsed in three sets against the lightly regarded but difficult Alejandro Falla.
Falla's previous claim to fame was taking Federer to five sets in the opening round at Wimbledon two years ago. Had the Colombian won, it would have been the biggest upset of the modern era. Falla then was ranked 60 and Federer, who had to come from two sets down, was world No2. How times change, but how the revolving cast remain somewhere in the narrative.
The rankings gap on Court Three on Wednesday was 63 places, but that is just a number. Falla was nevertheless given little chance against the rising Fish, whose arrival in the top 10 last year restored pride in American tennis after a lean time.
Falla was having none of it. His resolute defensive game broke Fish in the first game of the match and the American never really recovered. Falla held his nerve in two tie-breaks to win 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) in exactly three hours.
Nadal, his knee still heavily strapped after he had pinched a tendon while sitting in his hotel room earlier in the week, moved freely enough in beating the tough German Tommy Haas 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 29 minutes on the main court.
"His serve was really difficult to read," said Nadal, who described his knee as "very good".
He would, nevertheless, have appreciated a walkover like his new best friend Roger.
"But now I played and I win, no, I'm happy." It was good to see him smile after a week of acrimony and tension.
Juan Martín del Potro has had to reassess his ambitions since returning from injury, his single slam title in New York an ever-dimming memory. He played well to beat Blaz Kavcic – James Ward's conqueror in the first round – 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.
"If I play like today, maybe I have little chance to win," the tall, warm Argentinian said of his upcoming third-round match against Yen-Hsun Lu, who took just over two hours to beat the Frenchman Florent Serra 7-5, 6-2, 6-2. "Even if I lose and play in the same way, I will be happy, too."
It is some journey from the rooftop to the basement.
The women had a quiet Wednesday. Kim Clijsters encouraged her vast fanbase with a 57-minute demolition of Stéphanie Foretz Gacon, dropping just a single game. The world No1 Caroline Wozniacki looked as if she was going to blow Anna Tatishvili away but had to grit her teeth to win 6-1, 7-6 (7-4).
British interest waned further. Jamie Delgado and Jonathan Marray went out in the doubles, 6-4, 6-4, to the Poles Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski; Laura Robson, blown away in the singles on the first day, started brightly alongside the Australian teenager Ashleigh Barty until Dominika Cibulkova and Jill Craybas rallied to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
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