Bernard Tomic believes he is close to challenging tennis's big four for grand slam spoils despite the remarkable Roger Federer crushing the teenager's Australian Open dream on Sunday night.
The Swiss master tamed the apprentice 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in one hour, 44 minutes to reach his 31st consecutive grand slam quarter-final, a clash with 11th-seed Juan Martin Del Potro.
But even after an impressed Federer urged Australians not to place too much pressure too soon on Tomic to deliver, the ambitious youngster was shooting for the stars.
After taking down a string of top-20 rivals in the past fortnight to reach the Open's fourth round for the first time, Tomic was hopeful he could join world number one Novak Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray as the sport's dominant forces.
"It could be very soon. The next year, year and a half, if I improve my body and get stronger," he said.
"Having played all the top four guys now, and Roger twice, I think there is a lot for me in the future.
"I'm always going to get better and better. Looking back a year, I was not as good as now.
"And now looking to next year, I'll probably be even better. That's a scary part for me because I know I can improve a lot."
Federer raised his game to at-times imperious levels and said he needed to pull out all stops to deny Tomic a famous victory.
"I played a really good match. I thought I had to. Anything else wouldn't have got the job done," he said.
"Bernard showed why he's going to have a great future ... he's already very good - how much better do you want him? He's improved a whole lot in four, five months."
But having experienced the same pressure himself early in his career, Federer cautioned fans against expecting miracles from the 19-year-old.
"It's stressful sometimes being a teenager," the 16-times grand slam champion said.
"I was the next Pete Sampras and I didn't even have a title yet. He's got to go step by step - one title first and then he's already going to do great."
The youngest man to make the Open's fourth round since Nadal managed the feat at 18 and 241 days in 2005, Tomic entered Rod Laver Arena sporting the very same Nike headband as Federer.
Alas, he was unable to match his boyhood idol's brilliant touch and awesome firepower despite putting in a typically bold showing.
The Queenslander had fantasised about being the first teenager to conquer Federer since a youthful Andy Murray shocked him in Cincinnati in 2006.
But the third seed sapped the home hope's confidence after taking a high-quality first stanza to set up an enticing last-eight encounter on Tuesday with del Potro.
The big Argentine has moved stealth-like through the draw to qualify for his first grand slam quarter-final since upstaging Federer in the 2009 US Open final.
Should Federer turn the tables on del Potro and improve his dominant record over the South American to eight and two, the Swiss marvel could meet Nadal in the semis.
Nadal first needs to get past Czech seventh-seed Tomas Berdych in his quarter-final.
Hewitt takes on Djokovic on Monday night after inspiring even Nadal with his stirring run to the second week.
AAPTags: australian-open, tennis, sport, melbourne-3000, vic, australia First posted January 22, 2012 21:28:59