Federer is a man for all surfaces

Updated: January 29, 2004, 9:58 AM ET
By Malivai Washington | Special to ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- No. 2 seed Roger Federer is performing as well as he ever has. If Federer can continue, it's hard to think anyone, even in fifth gear, will be able to beat him.

In his four-set quarterfinals win over David Nalbandian, it was surprising how successful Federer was despite staying on the baseline. That bodes well for a player like Federer, who is equally competent coming in to serve and volley.

In Friday's match (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET), we'll see No. 3 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero predominantly playing from the baseline, which, though he does it very well, is all he can do.

Federer has the option of playing from the baseline, as he did in the quarterfinals, or being aggressive and ending points quickly with his transition game. Sometimes Federer has so many options on the court that he seems ambivalent about which to employ. That is where his not having a coach could be detrimental, though it has not been a problem so far.

If this semifinal were played on the red clay of Roland Garros, Ferrero would have to be the pick. It's not, though. Ferrero can play on faster surfaces, and he has proved he is someone to be reckoned with at the Australian and U.S. Opens. Pretty soon, he'll prove it at Wimbledon, too. But because of the speed and surface of Rebound Ace, Federer would have to be off his game to lose this match. This is just not Ferrero's time to win the Australian Open.

When Federer wins this semifinal match, he'll be the No. 1 player in the world when the rankings come out Monday. It's a position he could hold for the rest of the year because Federer has a game that can be tailored to any surface. He proved it at Wimbledon last year on grass. He proved it on clay by winning the Tennis Masters Series-Hamburg. He proved it at the end of last year by winning the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston on a hard court. Seldom does a player come along who has so much game on any surface.

But what makes this so fun is that Ferrero, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi all want that No. 1 spot, too.

MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.