Wimbledon: Federer's found his form at long last
Roger Federer declared normal service had resumed after the Wimbledon champion stormed into the fourth round with a 6-2 6-4 6-2 victory over Frenchman Arnaud Clement.
The top seed's progress through the opening two matches had been perhaps the most tortuous of his grand slam career after dropping three sets against Alejandro Falla and Ilija Bozoljac.
But he responded magnificently by dominating Clement — at 32 the oldest player left in the men's draw — throughout to set up a last-16 showdown with Austrian Jurgen Melzer.
The Swiss may have been assisted by some indifferent play from Clement whose forehand and serve misfired horribly at times, but it was still the emphatic victory he needed to silence whispers over the alarming start to his title defence.
“This is the performance I'm happiest with so far this tournament,” said Federer.
“My last match against Bozoljac was hard to judge because it was just serving, bombing, returning and reacting.
“In the first match I was in trouble after four sets and only in the fifth could I finally start to play a bit of normal tennis.
“But this felt much better. Right from the start I got the early break.
“It was the same thing in the second set. From then on, it was a race to the finish line.”
The men's top three seeds have each been extended to five sets during some precarious matches in opening two rounds but Federer denies that indicates the sport is in ruder health than ever.
“There's always been big depth over the last few years, it just seems like it's more now,” he said.
“There have been no major upsets yet but there have been some tough matches for everyone.”
Meanwhile, Lleyton Hewitt rolled back the years on Centre Court as he brushed aside Gael Monfils to set up a fourth-round clash with Novak Djokovic.
Hewitt's run to the quarter-finals last year was the first time he had reached the last eight of a grand slam since 2006.
The 29-year-old has since undergone a second hip operation in 18 months, in January, and showed how well he can play on grass by beating Federer in the final of the Gerry Weber Open in Halle earlier this month.
Monfils, the 21st seed, was tipped to offer a serious threat to Hewitt's progress but the Australian was well worthy of his 6-3 7-6 6-4 triumph.
“I feel good at the moment,” Hewitt said. “I have had a couple of rough times with hips.
“The first hip I played with, it wasn't even close to 100 per cent for quite a long time. I got to the stage I didn't want to come to Wimbledon and after a couple of months I had surgery.
“It was frustrating playing with that. But I'm surprised how well I've been able to come back from the last couple of operations, to how I'm moving and feeling physically. I've been able to bounce back day after day, which is pleasing. The hip's not a problem at all.”
And fifth seed Andy Roddick powered his way past Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber to keep alive his hopes of reaching a fourth Wimbledon final.
Roddick dropped his second set of the Championships but was never broken as he moved into the fourth round with a 7-5 6-7 (5/7) 6-3 6-3 victory over the 29th seed.
Last year's runner-up made just 14 unforced errors in four minutes short of three hours on Court One and would have wrapped up the victory earlier had his plucky opponent not saved three set points in the second set.
Kohlschreiber also saved two match points but merely delayed the inevitable and he has now lost nine of his last 10 matches against top-10 opposition — Andy Murray is his solitary scalp.