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Normal service resumed for Federer as young pretender bows out

Australian tennis has been looking for someone to replace Lleyton Hewitt as the figurehead for a new generation for many years now.

But while Bernard Tomic could yet be that man, the home crowd will have to pin their hopes on the veteran once again as the last Australian standing.

The 19-year-old Tomic was taught a lesson yesterday as Roger Federer dismantled his game during a flawless 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 victory. It was a display full of power, precision and invention and even Tomic admitted it had been good to watch.

In their first meeting in the Davis Cup last September, a weary Federer had battled past Tomic in four sets. That match was on grass while the slower hard courts of Melbourne Park gave the former world No.1 even more time to figure out the wily game of his opponent, and then tear him apart.

"On grass I have more chance against him because I can use my slices a little bit more and the ball stays lower," Tomic said. "On hard courts he's always in balance. The harder I hit it, the ball comes back in a different corner and ends up always being a winner.

"It's very strange. I never experienced my balls that I hit that hard coming back to be a winner. It's good to watch, you know. Even for me playing, I enjoy watching it."

Apart from the experience of playing Federer on a big occasion, Tomic should be buoyed by the fact the Swiss respected his talent enough to go after him from the start. Unlike the slicing and dicing that was on display when Tomic played Alexandr Dolgopolov in the previous round, the Australian was more aggressive, flattening out his shots when he had the chance.

The teenager stayed with Federer until 4-4 in the first set but then played a loose game and from there the 16-times grand slam champion did not look back. The second and third sets were something of a procession.

"I think the top-four guys are at a different level," Tomic said. "From five, six on they're all beatable but the top-four guys have something special. That's why the top three have all won slams and that's why [Andy] Murray is so consistent. Roger, for me, is very hard to beat. I think I learned a lot. It's good."

Federer was full of praise for Tomic and said the teenager has a bright future. "He's improved a lot since last year and he's improved a lot since Davis Cup in Sydney," Federer said. "I think he's had a wonderful tournament and I think there's much more that's going to come the Australian way."

Next up for the Swiss will be Juan Martin Del Potro. The Argentine, who beat Federer in the US Open final in 2009, crushed Phillip Kohlschreiber in straight sets and is getting close to his best again after missing the whole of 2010 with a wrist injury.

"It's going to be tough against Del Potro," he said. "I don't look beyond that because he's coming up strong. He had a good year and he played all the top guys again in the last year and pushed us all. I'm happy with how I'm feeling, so it's important to rest up well and then attack again in the court."

Rafael Nadal enjoyed a comfortable afternoon with a straight-sets win over fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez and he will now play Czech Tomas Berdych, who sparked some controversy when he refused to shake hands with Nicolas Almagro after his four-set victory. Berdych was angry at Almagro for hitting him in the arm with a shot midway through the match but was booed by the crowd for his actions at the end of the match.

And so to the last Australian standing, Hewitt, who has defied a bruised body and age to make it through to the last 16 yet again, with a will power second to none.

The former Wimbledon and US Open champion will be cheered on by the home crowd again but his run is likely to come to an end because Novak Djokovic, the world No.1, stands in his way.

By the time those two take to the court later this morning, Andy Murray, who was due to play the unseeded Mikhail Kukushkin in the early hours, should be sitting back and relaxing, thinking ahead to the tougher tasks to come.

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