The mere forecast of severe heat must leave Blaz Kavcic breaking into sweats after memories of his second-round match at last year’s Australian Open, and when you throw Roger Federer’s name into the mix as his opponent, he probably wishes he followed in the footsteps of his Winter Olympian grandfather.
The 99th-ranked Slovenian was completely outclassed for the best part of two sets against sixth seed Federer on Thursday, but finished strongly in a 6-2 6-1 7-6(4) contest.
The result was not what he had in mind, but it was a far cry from his brutal match at the same stage of last year’s Australian Open where he battled for more than four hours in 40-degree-plus heat to beat James Duckworth.
Drawn to play Federer in the 17-time Grand Slam champion’s unfamiliar surrounds of Hisense Arena, the 26-year-old was dealt a bit of a double-edged sword.
The 40-degree-plus temperatures did return to haunt him, but with the extreme heat policy forcing the roof’s closure, he was spared a repeat of his efforts a year prior.
He now faced the man with the greatest indoor record of active players, the roof allowing Federer to swing freely without having to factor in the elements.
The 32-year-old Swiss took full advantage, racing through the first two sets in under an hour, clocking 34 winners to the Slovenian’s five.
Not a bad start on a court he rarely sees game time on.
“It’s been 10 years since I played here last. (I) was supposed to play here a couple of years ago but my opponent pulled out. I came over early so I made sure I didn’t get lost, so I was on time,” he joked, after it was suggested his wife Mirka had to use satellite navigation to find the venue.
Federer’s serve was on song throughout, sending down 11 aces, and he racked up nearly four times the number of winners with 52.
He didn’t face a break point until 6-2, 3-0 up in the second set. He saved the first when Kavcic floated a forehand on the stretch long to end a 23-shot rally .
The Slovenian would raise his arms in triumph a point later when he broke the Federer serve for the first and only time of the match.
Federer, though, was relishing the conditions.
“Overall I started hitting good shots. It was something I was trying to do a little bit today, mix it up, swing the serve around a little bit, also come in. I was in command on my serve. That was for me most important, is that there I'm rock-solid,” he said.
“Third set I think he was more consistent. He served better. In the process, it got closer. You know, I'm happy I got it done in three.”
It was a polished performance in just his second match under the eye of his new coach, Swedish legend Stefan Edberg.
While it is only early days bringing his childhood hero into the fray, Federer doesn’t admit to any nerves playing before one of the finest serve-volleyers the game has seen.
“I had that earlier in my career, feeling like I had to do that when they used to watch my matches. Now, I mean, it’s different. I do feel very special when I'm able to play tennis with him because it's still, to a degree, disbelief that here I am playing with my childhood hero,” Federer said.
“It will never go away. Like when I hit balls with (Pete) Sampras or Rod Laver or Boris Becker, for that matter, people who I felt were very inspiring for my game.
“And then now playing in front of them for me – I don't want to say it's not a big deal – but it doesn't get me stressed out or I don't feel like I need to impress them.”
He may change his tune if he finds himself in his first Melbourne Park decider in four years in 10 days’ time.
“Of course, if they'd all be sitting in a line, like 20 guys, it's a different story ...”.