Magician Federer makes Berdych disappear
Uncertainty, they say, is the life blood of sport. This may be true in the majority of cases. But when Roger Federer plays tennis, many of his admirers don't care whether the match is close or not. They just want to see peak Roger: their idol at his most magisterial.
So where would we place yesterday's 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory over Tomas Berdych on this scale? It was probably an eight out of ten, maybe climbing to eight-and-a-half. To put it another way, Federer produced more magic in 138 minutes than many players have conjured up in their careers.
In her marvellous book 'Love Game', Elizabeth Wilson wrote: "The tennis match may seem at one level like a duel or a fight, but it is also a dance, with its own elaborate courtesies... more like a day at the opera at Glyndebourne than an afternoon of football at the Emirates Stadium." This is never more true than when Federer is playing.
Federer's opponent, as far as most spectators are concerned, is not there to remove him from the tournament. God forbid! Instead, he is like the straight man in a comedy duo, or the assistant in an illusionist's act: someone to weave tricks and routines around. And then to accept a sympathetic round of applause, while the true star takes the bouquets.
Berdych has played this role to perfection over the years. He, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori have long been the bridesmaids of the tour. Immensely rugged and powerful, with the physique of a Greek god, he served at a ferocious lick, making breaks hard to come by. As a result, he extended Federer past the two-hour mark for the first time in this tournament. But did anyone think that Berdych could win?
The challenger's plan was to launch a series of piledriving cross-court forehands. In the early stages, Berdych succeeded in knocking Federer off balance. Yet Federer adapted, making use of his vast repertoire and uncanny hand skills. Berdych doesn't have that luxury, being more of a slugger than a creator. Not everything that Federer tried came off. He threw in a couple of his most flamboyant drop-shots - the ones where the ball performs a vertical, Harrier Jump Jet-style take-off and landing - without putting either in court. He also sent out obvious signals of frustration at his inability to take complete control of the match.
But there were also plenty of micro miracles - the shots that nobody else can play, and that will be sorely missed when he does finally hang up his racquet.
"It's very, very difficult," said Berdych. "Roger doesn't give you any rhythm at all. I mean, he's playing barely with any mistakes."
How does Marin Cilic go about trying to halt the Fed Express tomorrow? Federer intimated last night that he feared a repeat of their 2014 US Open semi-final, in which he was unable even to collect a set against a zoning Cilic. But then Federer was not playing with the same mystical sense of self-possession in 2014 that he is today.
Destiny just seems to be pointing to another old-stager lifting a major title in 2017. When Federer won the Australian Open in January, it was the shock heard around the world. But when Rafael Nadal took last month's French Open without dropping a set, nobody blinked.
Asked how he would prepare, he replied "Just make sure I sleep well, really take it easy, so when I do come out on court on Sunday, I have all the energy and all the resources in my mind to play inspired and creative tennis." That's what the punters come to see. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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