MELBOURNE, Australia – If you want a master class, Roger Federer's demolition of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinal of the Australian Open here will do nicely. The score was 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 and the lesson lasted 88 minutes.
As an exhibition of how to hit a tennis ball, it was close to perfection. Tsonga, a big, strapping, talented athlete was on the other side of the net but he was cannon fodder. Federer said it was intense in the beginning and the Frenchman certainly made him run for a while, but as soon as the Swiss secured a break, intensity was replaced by as relaxed a demonstration of how to win a Grand Slam semifinal as I can remember.
It won't be the same in the final on Sunday evening because Andy Murray is a very different tennis player than Tsonga and has beaten Federer six times in 10 meetings. But the Scot will need to be at his very best if he is to stop Federer from claiming his 16th Slam and his fourth Australian title in what will be his eighth consecutive appearance in a Slam final.
To say Federer is in a relaxed mood would be an understatement. Set up by Jim Courier on court after the match, he turned comedian and gave the 15,000-strong crowd some entertainment. Asked how he trains, Federer replied, "I sit on the couch. I look after the kids."
Even his wife Mirka thought that was funny, probably with good reason, but Roger then went on to talk about Murray.
"It will be a different match. We'll feel each other out. He'll hit a backhand cross court, I'll hit a forehand down the line; he'll drop shot me, I'll lob him; he'll hit a shot between the legs. It will be fun."
Nor could he resist a tilt at British tennis. "I know he'd like to win the first title in British tennis for, what is it, 150,000 years?"
Digs at the old country are very popular in Australia so the place was in hysterics by this stage as Federer revealed a side of himself that the public rarely gets to see. He was pretty laid back in his press conference, too. When Neil Harman of the London Times complained that it was only 74 years since Fred Perry won the last Grand Slam title for Britain in the men's game, Federer replied, "How many years did I say? Oh, I missed it by a little bit."
But Federer, getting a little more serious, continued, "No, I mean, it's just funny, you know, because that's the question Andy probably gets asked quite a bit. Wouldn't be surprised if he's a bit fed up by it. I think he's done really well, handling the pressure, considering the media in England is very strong. So I think he's done great under the pressure."
Referring back to the Tsonga match, Federer was interesting when he revealed how little he knows about how he is actually going to perform on a given day.
"The pre-match feeling I have or the pre-match warmup I have -- they don't predict anything to me," he said. "It's really only after maybe the first two service games each that I have a little bit of an idea where it can take us."
And sometimes he is surprised. Someone in the Australian media who obviously doesn't appreciate watching a master craftsman at work, asked Federer if he thought it might have been a boring match to watch.
"No, I don't think for myself it wasn't boring at all," he replied. "For me it was very challenging to bring it over the finish line. Most of the stadium probably didn't know the last time I played him I was up 6-1, 5-1 and ended up losing. That wasn't a boring match for me either."
Unhappily, the next four weeks might be a little boring for Rafael Nadal. Soon after Federer reached the final, it was announced that last year's winner here would be out of tennis for a month after undergoing a medical examination in Barcelona. The doctor reported that Nadal's injury showed a "minimal focal tear on the back part of the quadricipital tendonitis insertion in his right knee."
Less technically, Nadal just added, "As I said before I left Melbourne, I know this is not the same injury I suffered last year. I feel good and I am only thinking of recovering well."