- Kamakshi Tandon
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MELBOURNE, Australia -- Federer is betterer. That's the only conclusion for Andy Roddick after his 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 defeat to the Swiss in the Australian Open semifinals.
The win puts "The (Still-)Mighty Roger" one match away from a record-tying 14th Grand Slam, with Rafael Nadal or Fernando Verdasco to be his opponent in the final. Both are Spanish left-handers who hit a mean ball on the forehand side.
"They play pretty identical," Federer joked afterwards. "So I don't have to wait to see who wins, I can start grinding against a lefty tonight."
The world No. 2 was in a good mood after an excellent night, during which he hit 51 winners and just 15 unforced errors. The reality is that Federer simply has no fear against Roddick, whose shots fall right into the Swiss star's strike zones.
Whatever Roddick did Thursday evening, Federer -- as usual -- had the answer. Every time he had a break point, Federer hit an ace or service winner. When Roddick hit big serves, Federer used his usual tactic of chipping back the return and forcing the American to regenerate the momentum in the rally.
Roddick tried to rally from the baseline but managed just three winners off the ground during the match. He tried to win from the net -- 42 times, to be precise -- and lost half those points.
That must be some incredible game plan Federer uses, right? Maybe not. Here's how he described his insultingly simple approach to the match:
1. "Let's get the return back and then let's see what you can create."
2. "Concentrate on your serving."
That has to be discouraging for Roddick, considering all his efforts to revamp his game: losing 15 pounds and using a tweaked approach of eclectic aggressiveness sketched out by new coach Larry Stefanki. Stefanki has coached three players to the Australian Open final or title in the past decade: Marcelo Rios, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Fernando Gonzalez.
Roddick also had the encouragement of having defeated his nemesis in their last meeting, in Miami. But while Roddick had played a fine match on that occasion, he was playing a subdued, post-mono Federer.
On Thursday, the Swiss was in full command of his artillery and emphatically showed why their head-to-head record now stands at a lopsided 16-2. Eight of those meetings have come in the final four of a Grand Slam, with Federer winning each time. In fact, all but two of Roddick's nine appearances in a Grand Slam final or semifinal have ended in defeat to Federer.
Still, the American can draw a little comfort from the fact that this meeting was a lot tighter than the 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 annihilation he absorbed against Federer when they last met in the Australian Open semifinals two years ago.
In the third set, Federer gave up a little more room on his shots, and Roddick took advantage by hitting out on his groundstrokes and frequently coming to net. He even managed to give Federer a taste of his own medicine at 3-2 by hitting a drop-shot winner that caught the Swiss off guard.
Federer gave Roddick credit for his recent improvements.
"I thought he played a bit more aggressive with his backhand," said Federer. "I think he already tried to do that against me in Miami -- played a bit more flat, so the ball goes through a little bit more.
"I really think he improved the returns -- the second serves he takes more easily. I have the feeling he's improved at the net. He's a bit better mover. Before, he didn't run a whole lot for drop shots."
None of that helped, however. "The thing about Roger is, you can know where to go and you can still come out on the bad end of it sometimes," said Roddick. "Overall, it was an OK match. He just beat me. It's plain and simple."
In other words: Federer is betterer.
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
18hEthan Sherwood Strauss