When a crisp Tomas Berdych forehand found its mark early in his first round match on Margaret Court Arena on Monday, a snowy-haired spectator mumbled to his mate “I’d be putting my money on this fella.”
It may not have been the most profound prediction if he was referring to the outcome of a match between the world No.7 and Aleksandr Nedovyesov, a player ranked 87 places below him and the three-time Australian Open quarterfinalist. It predictably ended in a comfortable straight sets 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win to Berdych.
But if he was looking further ahead to pinning his bet on the Czech 28-year-old to become the eventual champion, it was a bolder statement.
Stepping onto court wearing blue and white stripes and red shorts in a kit resembling more of a Czech national football outfit, it could well have been a lucky omen harking back to his December heroics in guiding his nation to its second consecutive Davis Cup crown alongside Radek Stepanek.
Red shorts aside, he could have passed for an Argentine footballer.
“But I'm not,” he grinned. “I'm still tennis player and I'm happy for that.”
Still in the group of “best never to have won a slam”, it stands as the Czech player’s crowning achievement, especially considering the cup defense was played before a raucous Serbian crowd in Belgrade.
For Berdych, though, Grand Slam tournament glory is still within reach and the Australian Open has seen a string of solid performances from him.
Reaching the last eight for the past three years, it has taken Novak Djokovic, twice, and Rafael Nadal to end his Australian Open campaign. Throw in a couple of fourth round losses at Melbourne Park to Roger Federer and it becomes evident Berdych usually only loses to the best Down Under.
Against Nedovyesov on Monday, there was never any threat of the Kazakh player joining his countryman Evgeny Korolev as the only player to have beaten Berdych before the fourth round since 2006.
Having broken for 5-3 in the first set, Berdych faced two break points on serve before ripping three forehand winners and forcing his opponent into error to take it 6-3.
It set the tone for the match, with Berdych relying on his heavily struck forehand to keep Nedovyesov on the back foot.
Ukrainian-born Nedovyesov finished 2013 in the top 100 for the first time in his career and for a player whose best results have come on the Challenger circuit he stuck with his bigger-hitting opponent until 4-all in the second set.
From there, Berdych turned on the gas, ripping a backhand pass up the line to bring up break point. He would go on to bring up three set points with an ace down the T, taking it on his first with Nedovyesov framing a return into the crowd.
“I felt good on my serve. I was facing just maybe few, two maybe, breakpoints down, which I managed to save,” he said. “Didn't drop my serve through all the game.”
It was a similar story in the third; Berdych clinching a crucial break late in the set for 4-3 before putting his foot down to break again with an easy backhand putaway for 6-3, the match sealed after 110 minutes.
“He was playing, yeah, really solid, aggressive. But in the end I think the experience and all those, you know, years on tour just been advantage for me today,” Berdych said.
The seventh seed meets 86th-ranked Frenchman Kenny De Schepper in the second round.
The snowy-haired fan would no doubt be backing Berdych in that one too.