Federer back in Aussie semis
MELBOURNE, Australia ” It’s fine for Roger Federer to talk about the tension and nerves players feel before a Grand Slam semifinal. He is about to play in his 15th in a row, after all.
But while it might reassure Novak Djokovic to hear that the man he’ll be facing in his first Australian Open semifinal experiences some nerves too, he’d better be wary of the rhetoric.
“I remember when I made my first Grand Slam semifinals or my finals, I was so nervous,” Federer said in an almost confiding tone, after beating James Blake 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-4 on Wednesday. “Now it’s been so many that it’s almost become some sort of a routine. That’s helped me a great deal being able to cope with those moments.”
Federer has a brilliant conversion rate, reaching the last 10 Grand Slam finals and winning 12 of the last 18 dating to his first at Wimbledon in 2003.
The momentum and experience gives Federer the edge, he says: “Maybe they blink a little bit in those important moments, whereas maybe usually they wouldn’t.”
At 26, Federer is the oldest of the men’s semifinalists, and will meet the youngest in 20-year-old Djokovic on Friday. The third-ranked Djokovic beat No. 5 David Ferrer of Spain 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 to complete a run to the semifinals at all four majors.
Rafael Nadal, who will play unseeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the other semifinal, is the longest-serving No. 2 in tennis history, and he’s only 21. Nadal knows something about catching Federer on a bad day in a Grand Slam, though, after beating the Swiss star in the last two French Open finals.
Still, Federer prefers to see the No. 2 and No. 3 players as potential rivals at the end of each major.
“It’s great that Rafa made it through, as well, with Novak. It’s good for tennis,” he said. “It’s not just one guy, but it’s a few guys now who have been playing very consistently.
“It’s going to be interesting to see. I’m excited playing against Novak, no doubt.”
Djokovic has two fellow Serbians in the women’s semifinals.
No. 3 Jelena Jankovic ousted defending champion Serena Williams, and No. 4 Ana Ivanovic beat Venus Williams 7-6 (3), 6-4.
It’s the second time in four majors that the Serbian trio has made it to the semis, repeating their run at the last French Open, and gives the end of the women’s draw a distinctly eastern European accent.
Ivanovic, who lost the French final to Justine Henin, faces Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova, who advanced to her first Grand Slam semifinal with a 6-2, 6-2 defeat of Agnieszka Radwanska.
Jankovic takes on last year’s losing finalist Maria Sharapova of Russia, who ended No. 1-ranked Henin’s 32-match winning streak in the quarterfinals.
Ivanovic had never taken a set off Venus Williams in four meetings, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the U.S. Open. But she was sharper from the start against Williams, who had her left thigh heavily wrapped.
“I was looking forward for some revenge,” Ivanovic said. “I’m just so, so happy I managed to step up.”
In the late men’s doubles match, two-time defending champions and top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan went down 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5) to Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles in the quarterfinals.
Federer had more to play for against Blake than just his 8-0 record against the American and his bid for a 13th major, which would move him within one of Pete Sampras’ record.
One of the anomalies of the rankings is that despite his domination last season ” 68-9 with a tour-high eight titles ” Federer could have lost the top spot he’s held since February 2004. Nadal would have taken over if he’d reached the Australian Open final and Federer lost to Blake.
“I heard rumors I could lose it,” Federer said, mockingly. “Someone reminded me of it.”
With a tiebreaker looming in the first set, Federer was at his usual best under pressure, breaking Blake as he served at 5-6.
Blake saved two set points at 4-5 in the second and three more after falling behind 6-2 in the tiebreaker, but Federer cashed his sixth.
He was cruising at 5-1 in the third set when Blake ran off three straight games, but Federer finally held to finish.
“I really went in thinking I had a good chance to win,” Blake said. “I played pretty well, but he came up with some of his best at the right times, and that was the difference.”
It was the same for Djokovic, who had set points against Federer in the U.S. Open final but could not convert them.
Against Ferrer, he was only troubled when it was time to close out, dropping his serve and losing his temper before regaining his composure.
“As the third player of the world, I have a lot of expectations and pressure, and sometimes it’s difficult to stay calm on the court,” Djokovic said. “I’m working on that. I’m still young and I still need to improve some elements in the game as well as the mental stabilization.”
Things changed for Djokovic when he beat Federer and Nadal en route to the Montreal title in August, then reached the U.S. Open final. He is widely considered a worthy No. 3.
“They were saying the year after a breakthrough year is the most difficult one. But you know, I’m feeling really, really good,” Djokovic said. “I’m playing with a lot of confidence.
“Playing a semifinal in a Grand Slam has become my routine in the last year or so. But I’m always trying to push myself on the most important events to play my best tennis, which I did, and it’s a positive thing for the future.”