ROGER Federer has rarely looked more relaxed – and that is saying something. On the eve of his 12th Australian Open semi-final and within tantalising reach of not only his fifth title here but 18th major – bright lights that would dazzle any mortal – the Swiss was laid-back, content and obviously ready for battle with Novak Djokovic after handling the skittish challenge of Tomas Berdych to win their quarter-final 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-4.
The defending champion later made short work of Kei Nishikori, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, to set up his 45th encounter against the Swiss, with the pair locked on 22 wins apiece. It was as if everybody was sticking strictly to the script, because that was the way it was meant to be.
“It’s part of the reason why I guess I’m still playing,” Federer said of the challenge facing him. “I feel like I’m competitive at the top. I can beat all the guys on Tour. It’s nice now that in the last three slams I’ve been as consistent as I have been. I’m playing good tennis, fun tennis for me anyway. I really enjoy being able to come to the net more like back in the day. So I’m very pleased. It would mean a lot to me, no doubt about it.”
Federer, who bosses a press conference like a kindly school teacher, even admitted he may have been wrong to criticise Bernard Tomic recently, a barb that stung hard enough for the Australian to hit back at him after losing to Andy Murray the other night.
“I said a lot of things in Brisbane,” he grinned like the wild young man he once was himself. What he said was Tomic had been around a little while, talking a lot about reaching the top 10, and needed to prove it.
Federer said: “I guess only a small part got taken out of it. It’s a bit out of context. Then you feed it to a player, he reacts, might be frustrated, and then he goes even further. I’d like to see anybody succeed, [to see] anybody make their move. Especially to top 100 first, top 10, world No1. If everybody could be that, I wish that for everyone.
“To be quite honest, when I walked out of the press room I thought I was somewhat tough but at the same time I was fair because I said nice things about him. But then I checked his ranking. I didn’t know his ranking  was as high as it was. I thought he was like 50 or 60 and he was top 20. That was my bad, to be honest.
“But I still believe it’s a big difference, top 10 for a week or for a year or for multiple years, and getting there is not easy. It’s a lot of dedication, a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of guys who have the potential right now, not just him. That’s why I think it got brought up.”
After that rare sighting of the Full Blushing Federer, we moved on to tennis, and he was back to has analytical best.
As for his final workout before the closing stages of the championships, he said: “I played well overall. You know, wished maybe I didn’t get a break here or there. At the same time Tomas was pushing for it, he was looking for it, so clearly it can happen. He’s got a lot of power. He knows how to do it. So I was happy that on both occasions, first and third, I was able to react quickly. The second set, when I did have the break, I was able to roll with it.
“The first set was tough. It was the one that took the longest, had the most importance of all the sets. It was definitely key to the rest of the match because I think it maybe might’ve taken some energy out of Tomas. Who knows? If not physical, also mental. It’s always tough to lose the first set in best-of-five in a breaker.”
After his 100-error nightmare against Gilles Simon, Djokovic got his game back and, as well as Nishikori some times played, it was an uneven contest in the end.
“That was the goal, to decrease the unforced errors ratio,” Djokovic said. “I’ve done that. I knew I’m going to play against an opponent that plays very fast – faster than Simon – that makes also more unforced errors.
“I tried to weather the storm, hang in there. He came up and played first couple games very fast, very quick. Took the ball early, being very aggressive from both corners. I expected that.
“I was solid. I was determined, focused. In important points and moments I managed to stay composed and make him play an extra shot. Overall it was a very solid performance.”
Djokovic defeated him in the past two Wimbledon finals but he has to deal here with a Federer who looks unnervingly ready for it. This, at 34, is one of Federer’s few remaining chances to get back on level terms. It makes an old row very fresh –theguardian.com
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