MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Searing heat forecast to hit Melbourne Park’s second round matches on Thursday holds no fear for Roger Federer, who welcomed the chance to test his 31-year-old body in extreme conditions.
The Swiss maestro played his opening match of the Australian Open in far gentler weather on Tuesday, trouncing France’s Benoit Paire 6-2 6-4 6-1 on a sun-drenched afternoon at Rod Laver Arena.
Former players and pundits have cast doubts on Federer’s ability to handle a marathon in draining heat at Melbourne Park, particularly against the likes of the ultra-fit Novak Djokovic and his fellow 25-year-old Andy Murray.
Federer, who plays Russian former world number three Nikolay Davydenko on Thursday when 39 degrees Celsius heat is forecast, said he was not concerned about the weather.
“Obviously (it) has a big effect, but I‘m not worried about the heat in any way,” he told reporters.
”I have practised and played so many matches over the years in a lot of heat. I almost favour myself over my opponent in the heat.
“Obviously when you get the hot match, you try not to stay out there for too long. But then again, if you have to, that’s what it is. That’s part of the game.”
John McEnroe questioned second seed Federer’s ability to overcome champion Djokovic and twice finalist Murray in a long match in the heat this week.
Swede Mats Wilander, a three-times Australian Open champion, agreed with the American great’s assessment.
“I don’t think that he can match them (in the heat), but I think he is the master at dealing with the unexpected,” seven-times grand slam champion Wilander told Reuters at Melbourne Park on Tuesday.
“If you’re thinking Novak and Andy, at some point they’re going to just get ahead of him a little bit.”
Federer also shrugged off doubts about a lack of competition in his preparations for the year’s first grand slam, needing only 83 minutes to despatch 46th-ranked Paire, the Swiss’s first official match since playing the ATP Tour Finals in November.
The 17-times grand slam champion, bidding for a fifth title at Melbourne Park, eschewed all competition in the leadup in favour of working on his game on the practice courts.
Little rust was evident, however, as Federer compiled 25 sweetly-struck winners in a match more akin to a clinical training session.
The lessons were lost on Paire, however, who admitted to feeling clueless as to how to fight back.
“It’s tough. I don’t know what to do against him,” the Frenchman said. “I don’t know (how to handle) his serving or his returning. For me, I can do nothing.”
Federer said the 40th-ranked Davydenko was a player who could do a lot of ‘damage’ despite his struggles with injuries in recent years.
”I had a very close match with him in Rotterdam last year. Should have won in two,“ the Swiss said. ”It ended up being 4-4, love‑40 in the third.
”I was very close to losing. Next thing you know, nobody talks about it. I went on to win the tournament and nobody talks about Nikolay.
“So it’s nice to see him playing well again.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford and Pritha Sarkar