MELBOURNE, Australia -- For all those adjectives that seem to genuflect before Roger Federer, you seldom hear him described as "sentimental." Sentient? Yes. Sensational? Sure. But not "sentimental."
Too Swiss, too practical, too rational for that. He doesn't do superstition -- much less the OCD routine that consumes his rival, Rafael Nadal. He doesn't speak much in abstract.
Federer, though, has a true sense of the occasion. And when he saw the opponent he would need to beat in his 1,000th career match, he recognized the poetic justice.
Federer has few regrets from his gilded career. But one came at the 2009 U.S. Open when he was rolling Juan Martin del Potro, a few points from winning another major. Then he blinked, and del Potro suddenly began dialing in his booming forehand. And suddenly Federer was dismissed in five sets, one of those what-the-hell-just-happened moments. It's hard to take too much pity on a guy who wins majors as if bulk shopping at Costco. Still, for Federer, this was one that got away.
Del Potro never became a Federer rival, much less an enemy. But for Federer, he represented a player -- seven years his junior -- who deprived him of a major and loomed as a threat to win another. As far as statements go, you can do worse than beating this guy to win a milestone match.
And Federer did just that, offering up the full tasting menu. We got the usual flourishes and flair, the running backhand and spin-laden cutting forehand and expert volleys. We got accuracy: 38 winners versus 26 errors. We got defense, Federer completely neutralizing the biggest forehand in the sport. We got none of the lapses that caused that U.S. Open loss, Federer taking command of each set and never relinquishing.
In the end, it was vintage Federer, a fair representation of the preceding 999 matches. The Swiss maestro played immaculate tennis, winning 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 to advance to yet another Grand Slam semifinal. He could scarcely have scripted a better milestone win. Even if it prompts this question: 1,000 matches into an unparalleled career, when's 1,500?
Federer's gripping the occasion by the lapels in contrast to the other big match Tuesday afternoon. Apart from the usual lose-or-go-home proposition, Caroline Wozniacki had this to contend with when she took the court against Kim Clijsters in the second ladies quarterfinal: if she lost today, she would surrender her top ranking.
A snapshot of her tenure at the top of the WTA chart, Wozniacki fought gamely, played admirable defense and went games without missing -- but ultimately lost another late-round match. For all the mentally shaky sluggers in the WTA cast, Wozniacki is the opposite. She battles gallantly, strategizes masterfully and plays unflustered tennis as the match wears on. Her problem: she simply doesn't have the firepower to win. She's bringing a (butter) knife to a duel. Her serve is unthreatening. Her forehand doesn't penetrate the court. Her backhand is less penetrating. Too often, she had a shot lined up and simply couldn't close the point.
She's taken a lot of heat lately, but give her some credit. She was No. 1 for 67 weeks, longer than Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Clijsters combined. She won seven titles during that period. She comported herself like a professional.
In a perverse way, her expulsion benefits everyone. Almost assuredly, the new No. 1 will have won a major (though the still Slamless Victoria Azarenka has a shot at the top billing), restoring some heft to the WTA. The ranking system won't be attacked quite as viciously for favoring quantity over quality. And Wozniacki can go about her business without constantly defending herself against charges that she is a counterfeit No. 1.
If she needs encouragement, well, like so many she can fix her gaze on Federer. It took him a few years to get going. Look at him now.
Am I crazy or did Serena come off as (kind of) gracious in the post-match interview of her defeat to Ekaterina Makarova. Is this a new Serena? Better representation? Has Venus been coaching Serena in the ways of gracious living? Did YOU finally get to her to explain how bad she was coming across in interviews? Please advise.-- Charlie G. Washington, D.C.
• Funny, I asked Serena a form of this same question and didn't get very far. But I agree. We've seen her lose matches and then appear ready to bite through barbed wire. On Monday -- at an event she's won multiple times -- she mustered five games off a player ranked outside the top 50. That's a brutal loss by any measure. That's the kind of loss that causes players to go Baghdatis in the locker room.
Yet I thought Serena was very self-possessed and positive and realistic and measured. Who knows what's going on in her head? But I hope it didn't represent a diminished intensity. I hope it was her way of saying:
"I had a rough 2011. Physically, I am not 100 percent. I had poor match preparation, including nothing between the U.S. Open and January. I have a lot of room for improvement. I need to go to work."
Interesting comments from Martina Navratilova at the Australian Open, pointing out that Petra Kvitova would currently be No. 1 if the WTA hadn't changed its ranking system six years ago (when they awarded bonus points for beating the top players). Given that Slam-less No. 1s are now an embarrassment, have you heard whether the WTA might reinstate the old system?-- Matt Mueller, London
• Again, the rankings are supposed to reflect merit. But they are also supposed to create incentive for players to compete, to "support the Tour" as they say in polite circles. If there were no minimum events and loads of bonus points and more weight to the Slams, it would have the effect of further de-emphasizing the whistle-stop events.
I think the Tours needs to consider this, too, as they beseech the majors for more prize money. If the Slams doubled their prize money tomorrow -- by my back-of-the-envelope calculations, that would occur if paid as prize money a portion of gross revenue equal to what the regular events pay -- would it not make players even less inclined to play the Shanghais and Moscows and Estorils? Let's see ... I can get $100,000 for reaching the third round of a major. I think Madrid is missable.
You describe Makarova in the following way: "a player inferior to Serena to an order of magnitude." Chris Evert seems to disagree. And, I see a lot of patience and guts in her mental armor, something that is perhaps missing from the likes of Wozniacki and Jelena Jankovic. Anyway, Evert predicted that Makarova would win a Grand Slam singles title within two years before the Serena match. Any second thoughts?-- Joe J., Easton, Pa.
• Seriously? Win Grand Slams? I give Makarova a lot of credit for winning that match and not letting the moment kick her in the behind. But we're talking about a player outside the top 50 who recently went six straight tournaments without winning a round. She's not old (23), but she's not exactly a hot prospect, either.
To answer Tina Davis of Boston, I'm gonna add my personal all-time fave, Hana Mandlikova. I believe the venerable Bud Collins once said of Hana that the only thing holding her head together is her headband.-- Rod, Toronto
Not sure if umpires are looking forward to seeing more of this junior boy player in the future: Wishaya Trongcharoenchaikul, who has a tongue-twisting last name ...-- Ken, San Mateo, Calif.
• By the time chair says: "Advantage Trongcharoenchaikul," we're close to a time violation.
Your clairvoyance was quite evident when you made the comment, "I can see (Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga getting hot ..." Were you doing your best Carnac imitation by thinking about the Kei Nishikori match and holding an envelope up to your forehead?-- Dramvie S, Austin, Texas
• Touché. (For those who missed it, Tsonga did not handle yesterday's heat particularly well.)
• Five quickies from today:
1) The person who taped Kim Clijsters' ankle before her match today deserves a raise.
2) Aggie Radwanska won the first set and then faded against Victoria Azarenka. Afterward, she earned points, taking on the grunters and single-handedly thwarting the WTA's contention that players are OK with the grunting.
3) Tennis statistics sometimes tell funny stories, but there's no getting around this: when Wozniacki hits one backhand winner in 22 games, she ain't winning majors.
4) Serena Williams warmed up for her match against Makarova with ... Thomas Muster.
5) Richard Hinds on Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl: ''We have a similar sense of humor,'' said Murray, evoking visions of coach and player rolling on the floor at the sight of a drowning puppy. Ominously, Murray says he would like to be more ''robotic'' on the court, like Lendl. What's next? Maria Sharapova pledging to become more "self-absorbed?"
• Today's random encounter from Dexter Godbey of La Canada, Calif.:
I only wish I knew then what I know now. It was in the fall of 1965 or sometime in 1966. Pauley Pavilion was spanking new. I was working out alone in the football players' weight room on the UCLA campus. A diminutive, odd-looking guy wandered in. I must have outweighed him by 80 or 90 pounds.
"He came over and asked me, in what I thought was an English accent, if it was OK if he used some weights "if I promise not to get in your way."
"OK," I said. I'm introverted and don't easily strike up conversations with strangers. But this scrawny redhead wanted to chat, didn't seem to think he was bothering me by doing so, and started asking me a bunch of questions.
What year was I? Did I like UCLA? Did I play football? Where was I from? What was my major? He was very articulate, friendly as can be, soft-spoken, and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say.
I was probably very rude, although I'm grateful to say now that at least I responded to his questions. Trying to be a little bit nice at one point, I said, "You're clearly not a student here. Why are you in town?"
"Oh, just playing some tennis," he said.
"Oh," I said. I'd been forced to play tennis for three weeks in junior high gym class and that was everything I knew on the subject. So I really didn't have anything else to say. He went through a quick workout, talking the whole while, and left after about 20 or 30 minutes saying, "I gotta get going, but it's been really great talking with you. Good luck here at school and everything. G'day, mate."
A couple of minutes later another one of the football players came in and said, "Was that guy with the red hair in here?"
"Did he have like one really big arm and one small one?"
"Yeah. It was weird. It's not just bigger. It's like twice as big. It was like one Popeye arm and one Olive Oil arm," I said.
"I thought that was him," he said. "Do you know who that is?"
"Rod Laver," he said, as if I should know who Rod Laver was. I had no clue.
"He's one of the best tennis players," he said.
"Oh," I said.
About 10 or 12 years later I got interested in watching tennis on TV. Later in life I started playing. I'm still an active, competitive player and a huge fan. And I'd give almost anything now to have 20 or 30 minutes alone with the standard against whom all others are measured for GOAT status: The Living Legend, Rocket Rod Laver. At least I still have my encounter.
• Glen Janney, Miami: I had to laugh at the writer from Chicago who complained that Patrick McEnroe never condemns (present tense!) his brother John's behavior, not just because after 25 years one should be able to turn the page, but because I, too, thought of McEnroe immediately after the Berdych-Almagro incident. Lendl repeatedly went after McEnroe when he'd come in, and I distinctly remember John ingloriously ducking on more than one occasion. As Lendl once said, "I don't invite him to come to net."
• EB of New York, N.Y., has look-alikes: Downton Abbey'sLady Sybil Crawley (played by Jessica Brown-Findlay) and Ana Ivanovic.