MELBOURNE, Australia -- He said it felt like a "little something more" than just a third-round match, and he certainly played like it was. Roger Federer produced some compelling tennis to complete a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (5) win over Marat Safin at the Australian Open on Friday night.
Safin, playing what he says will be his last Australian Open, tipped his cap to the Swiss afterward. "He's the most complete tennis player in the history of tennis, that's for sure," Safin said. "With all due respect to Agassi and Sampras and the rest of the gang, but I never felt so uncomfortable against any of the players before."
Federer now stands four wins away from winning his 14th Grand Slam, which would tie Pete Sampras' record for the most majors and arguably make him the greatest player in the history of tennis.
He described this win as "rock solid," though that assessment would have been different had he not come through a tricky third-set tiebreaker. Federer went into it feeling like Safin had the upper hand -- the Russian had improved his serving and begun pushing Federer on his service game as well.
But it was Safin who began the breaker in shaky fashion, missing a forehand to give up a 3-1 mini-break. His mood was not improved by a center line foot fault call on his second serve a few moments later.
Furious at what he felt was an attention-seeking call from the linesman, Safin yelled, "Just show his face [on TV] so he's presented on the match."
This would normally be the cue for Safin to have a meltdown and give away the rest of the match, but it was Federer who suddenly missed a few shots and gave back the minibreak. A big Safin serve leveled things at 4-4, and another error from the three-time Australian Open champion nudged Safin ahead to 5-4.
Suddenly, Federer seemed to decide that enough was enough. He produced two big serves and finished the match in style by sending a backhand pass whistling by Safin and landing sweetly on the line.
The two hugged at net, a fitting end to Safin's Australian Open adventures. The Russian's greatest moment of glory here came in 2005 when he defeated Federer in five scintillating sets in the semifinals and went on to win the title on the 100th anniversary of the tournament.
There was little for Federer to find fault with on Friday, though he wished he could have come up with a few more big serves to make things even easier. But the ease with which he was outserving, outrunning and outmaneuvering Safin did not mean Federer had lost respect for one of his earliest rivals.
Even up two sets and at 5-5 in the third, the Swiss was still feeling some tension, revealed when he yelled in frustration after missing a backhand just wide on Safin's service game. And he was positively giddy during the post-match interview, even dispensing some fashion advice upon request.
Next up is the ball-bashing Tomas Berdych, who famously defeated Federer at the 2004 Olympics. (That demon was exorcised when Federer defeated him at the Beijing Games in August.) The two also met at the same stage here last year, with Federer again winning in straight sets.
Still, Federer will not be taking this match lightly. When he's on, the powerful Czech can bring down anyone -- he just hasn't had that many on days of late. Federer will want to keep the mentally inconsistent 23-year-old on the run and prevent him from getting in an aggressive, attacking groove.
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.