January 26, 2016
The incredible Roger Federer just keeps producing a quality of tennis that proves too much for most younger men.
He knows he has to play aggressively, because he can’t afford to drop sets and slip into marathon contests at the age of 34 – not if he is to remain fresh enough to compete genuinely for an 18th Grand Slam against the likes of Novak Djokovic.
Federer also knows he must always keep his opponents guessing tactically, if he is to win the battle against those younger pretenders.
At 30, Tomas Berdych, Roger’s latest adversary, is no spring chicken himself. Yet he is still considered to be in his prime, whilst those four extra years are supposed to have sent Federer sliding over the hill.
Not so on the evidence of this convincing 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-4 victory. Federer seems to make a mockery of time when he displays this kind of ruthless self-assurance. True, he fell behind twice, in the first and third sets, and yet he struck back immediately to seize the upper hand.
And when it really mattered in that first set tie-break, Federer’s hunger and cunning really told as he grabbed control from the start.
The second set saw Roger’s superiority flourish, as he broke twice to leave himself within a set of the semi-finals. And once again, at 4-4, just when he needed to inflict the final wound on his opponent, the imperious Swiss did so.
‘I’m very, very happy,’ said Federer. ‘I was aggressive and had variety in there.’
Now he’ll have to play Novak Djokovic, who stormed back from an error-strewn display against Gilles Simon to defeat Kei Nishikori in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. The Japanese star had his chances, squandering five break points in the second set.
But Djokovic seems to have nerves of steel and gets the job done almost every time, however vulnerable he looks temporarily. In the third set, Nishikori did manage to break early – only to be broken back again. Will we see Federer hold his nerve against Djokovic?
There have been times, not least at last summer’s glorious Wimbledon, when it has seemed that Federer has shown moments of self-doubt in the face of such fearsome all-round brilliance from Djokovic. Roger’s ruthlessness has occasionally been replaced by a tightening of those muscles that normally produce such effortless elegance.
Federer wants another Grand Slam title more than anything, and sometimes it appears he wants it too much. Djokovic, for whom Grand Slams are a regular reward for his excellence, duly snatches away the prize that Federer has all but earned.
Will it be the same story this time around? Neutrals will hope that Federer’s clarity of thought at this Australian Open will endure, even under the fiercest of pressure, so that his dream can come true. Novak’s army of fans will see no reason why the current balance of power should shift, even though the Serb’s form has been patchy in Melbourne.
After all, there was no turning of the tide in the women’s game, as Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova for an 18th consecutive time – winning 6-4, 6-1 on this occasion.
Although Sharapova battled gamely in the first set, she was blown away in the second, bowing to the inevitable, as she has been forced to do for the last twelve years or so.
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