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Australian Open 2016: Roger Federer turns on a masterclass to reach 40th grand slam semi-final

Before Don Bradman's last tour of England in 1948, British cricket writer RC Robertson Glasgow wrote this encomium: "We want him to do well. We feel we have a share in him. He is more than Australian. He is a world batsman." Much the same sentiment now envelops Roger Federer wherever he goes, except that Federer is being appropriated not by Australia or the British empire, but the world.

It makes him a formidable moral as well as technical and athletic force, player and right, player and crowd. Tomas Berdych came with a presentable CV for any other opponent. He once rose briefly to No 4 in the world; Federer once briefly slipped below it. Berdych is regarded as the best contemporary player not to win a major; Federer might be the the best of all the major winners, and incontrovertibly is the most prolific. How court announcer Craig Willis's theatrical calling of the Federer roll must gall Berdych.

Roger Federer
Roger Federer recorded his 80th singles win at the Australian Open. Photo: AP

Berdych often has tested and sometimes beaten Federer in big matches, a double-edged achievement. "He's one of the guys who makes you a better player," said Federer. That wasn't the the idea, Berdych must have thought.

But so it proved again this day. To begin, their match was awkward and arhythmic. It was if the net was suddenly a centimetre or two higher, the court shorter and narrower. Federer was as off-key as Berdych. At the first change of balls, he almost forgot to switch to a new racquet, an extraordinary oversight for a perfectionist. Every point had to be won or wrangled. There were no love games, and there would only be two for the match.

Berdych broke, but Federer broke back immediately. Berdych had forced Federer's improvement again. He dominated the tie-break, and relaxed into his work. Consistency begat control, begat mastery. Whether rushing to the net or dragged to it, he won nearly every point there. "You would assume these are not stats you can keep up," he said. "As long as you're coming in on the right plays, it's OK to be beat. You've just got to ask the question, time and time again."

Berdych had only spasmodic answers. Like so many before him, including himself, he was reduced to shaking his head, and sometimes laughing. "I'm not asking to have all the points for free," he said later. Some, though, would have been nice. Other players offer them. "But that's how it goes," Berdych said.

The second set was Federer in regulation. In the third set, Berdych again broke Federer, and again was broken back immediately: Berdych good, Federer better. Berdych then had Federer 15-40 behind on serve, but could not break him. Duly, Berdych fell 0-40 behind on his own serve, and although he momentarily squared the game, he could not save it. Berdych better than average, Federer 99.94.

The final point was an image of what had become of the match, Federer smashing away his last winner, Berdych with his back his opponent, hands on knees, half for protection, half in submission.

Federer by now was so in control of proceedings that he was ready for the obligatory on-court interview before Jim Courier was. At 34, Federer is the oldest semi-finalist at the Australian Open for nearly 40 years, and the oldest in any major since Andre Agassi 10 years ago. But he gives the impression of a man who is not just stalling the clock, but winding it back. "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." But his remaining games in this tournament will be at night, when the the courts play more slowly.

Berdych was resigned. "He was just too good today," he said. "That's it." But in his tone, he was reminiscent of another appreciation of Bradman, made by exhausted English fieldsman Dick Tyldesley at Leeds one day in 1930. When it was put to Tyldesley by a spectator that Bradman was rather good, he pantingly replied: "He's no damned good for me."

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