- Ravi Ubha, Tennis
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MELBOURNE, Australia -- Has there been anyone better than Roger Federer in preying on vulnerability?
Federer has broken so many opponents, technically and in spirit, early in matches to set the tone. He did it again Tuesday afternoon against fellow Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, who has substantially more work to do to mix with the best.
Federer's 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 win in a quick-fire 1 hour, 47 minutes over the 19th seed sent him into the semifinals at the Australian Open for the eighth straight season, a feat he hasn't achieved at any other major. Yes, there were tears in 2009, but it's mostly been the Happy Slam for him indeed.
Few would have forecast the lopsided nature, given Federer's struggle in the previous round and Wawrinka's glittering displays versus Gael Monfils and Andy Roddick. Roddick knew something, though, suggesting in the aftermath of his defeat that Federer would get the better of Wawrinka.
"I've been in so many quarterfinals, in this situation before," said Federer, who reached a record-tying 27th straight Grand Slam quarterfinal. "I have the game and experience to be tricky for him. Then once the first set goes quick, maybe he's under pressure there."
So Federer is now two wins from defending his title and landing a 17th major. He served unbelievably well at 77 percent and moved effortlessly.
"You see the first couple of games and think, 'S---, it's like this today,'" said a grinning Peter Lundgren, Wawrinka's coach and formerly in Federer's corner. "Roger saw the ball amazing. If he plays like this, he's the best."
Federer presented a much different package than Monfils and Roddick. For one, Wawrinka wasn't allowed to dictate. He changed pace, throwing in several good drop shots. Recall that he wasn't a fan of the drop not so long ago.
"The thing is, he's so powerful that he backs guys up," said Federer co-coach Paul Annacone. "To me you want them to have to cover as many areas on the court as you can. If you're backing them up, then you bring them in sometimes. It's about managing those things and picking the right time to use it. Maybe it's more prominent because he's playing more offensively."
While Federer impressed, Wawrinka thoroughly disappointed.
Lundgren says he wants Wawrinka to turn into a beast on court. The way he shriveled, he was no beast Tuesday. The notion that Wawrinka has a mental block facing Federer -- besides being countrymen, they won doubles gold at the 2008 Olympics -- will pick up steam. With Federer stranded at the net and Wawrinka closing balls down, the latter didn't go for the jugular.
Whether it was the conditions -- he'd contested two night matches in succession -- or nerves, Wawrinka's start let him down. Lundgren thought it was more the former. Wawrinka lost eight of the first nine points to trail 2-0. And his feet didn't move.
Wawrinka started to loosen up in the second, manufacturing his only break point at 3-2. Given a sitter on his usually reliable one-handed backhand, Wawrinka missed by some margin down the line. He was making that shot in his sleep in previous rounds.
That was that.
"The next thing you know, I get [the break]," Federer said.
Wawrinka, who made his second consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal, departed mentally.
Wawrinka entered the affair with the most winners in the tournament; more impressive, his winners-to-unforced errors ratio was also tops, well ahead of Czech Tomas Berdych. He was minus-9 Tuesday.
"Stan went for it, but he missed a few forehands," Lundgren said. "His serve didn't work. He has to serve really good, and his forehand has to work."
At least there was entertainment. In the last game of the second set, Federer retrieved back, but this time, he hit a between-the-legs lob. In the same rally, Federer had another chance to hit a 'tweener but opted for a swipe. Wawrinka won the point.
"Talk about variety," Annacone said. "It was fun to watch. He's having a good time and playing well."
Which bodes well for the semifinals.
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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