MELBOURNE, Australia – Roger Federer joked that he left the locker room early on Thursday to make sure he could find the way to an unfamiliar court.
It was the first time in a decade that Federer was not given prime billing at Rod Laver Arena, the 15,000-seat center court where he had played 63 Australian Open matches in a row and won four of his 17 Grand Slam trophies.
Instead, the former No. 1-ranked player was assigned to the secondary and less prestigious Hisense Arena. It was a demotion that fans and pundits interpreted as the latest sign of Federer's decline.
But sixth-seeded Federer showed that he should not be written off just yet.
After a very bad year, Federer had a good day. He raced to a 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (4) win over Blaz Kavcic to advance to the third round. He attacked, volleyed, served well and kept reeling off beautiful one-handed backhands, making it look graceful as he sped around the court.
An on-court interviewer congratulated Federer after the match and then asked him if he needed a GPS to find Hisense.
Federer laughed. "I was excited to be playing here. This ain't just some little side court."
He then quipped: "I came out early to make sure I didn't get lost, so I was here on time."
Thursday was a chaotic day of wacky weather at the Australian Open, where matches on outer courts were suspended several hours due to 43 degree C (109 F) temperatures. In the evening, play was paused again by a lightning storm.
But Federer was removed from it all. He practiced on an indoor court and then played his match under the roof at Hisense, which was closed after the Extreme Heat Policy took effect.
"I never actually experienced the heat today," said Federer, who dispatched of the 99th-ranked Kavcic in straight sets.
Last year was Federer's first year without a Grand Slam final appearance since 2002. It was also the first time he finished outside the top 5 since 2002. He's now ranked No. 6.
Federer says he's now relieved of the back problems that dogged his 2013 campaign and contributed to his second-round exit at Wimbledon.
He's also working with his childhood hero Stefan Edberg, a six-time major winner, whom he hired as a part-time coach last month. Edberg sat in the stands next to Federer's wife, Mirka.
Federer said he feels the confidence to take more chances on the court, which showed in his second-round match.
"I was overly aggressive at times, but I'd rather be that than overly passive," Federer said. "In terms of fitness, I feel great. I feel very healthy. It's a big difference from six months ago."