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Thursday, January 28, 2010
Updated: January 29, 9:04 PM ET
That Federer is a pretty savvy guy

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Roger Federer isn't the same player he was a few years ago. In 2006, he went 92-5 and landed 12 titles, three in majors. Back then, he glided through matches.

Heck, no one could keep that up. Rafael Nadal, already good, improved immensely, Novak Djokovic came along, and Juan Martin del Potro broke through with a bang at the 2009 U.S. Open at the Swiss' expense.

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At 28, Federer is a bit patchier, and this year's Australian Open is a fine example, his 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 demolition job of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals Thursday evening notwithstanding. Tsonga's limited mobility is a hindrance, as is his backhand, so he needed to serve out of his head to have a chance. It didn't happen. Let's point out Tsonga was tired, too, which couldn't have helped.

How it must have hurt the Frenchman given his love of playing in front of big crowds. Tsonga, at least, won the point of the match in the final game, putting away a backhand overhead smash and readying for any reply like a soccer goalie awaiting a penalty.

Federer gets a stiffer test chasing major No. 16 in the finale against Andy Murray, who is stuck on … zero. Federer ended his hoodoo against Murray, triumphing in their past two tilts.

"From what he produced tonight, he's the favorite," two-time Grand Slam finalist Cedric Pioline said. "We saw the last Grand Slam, where he lost to del Potro, so he'll be very motivated. He learned from that and moved on."

Federer looked less convincing in his quarterfinal victory over Russian Nikolay Davydenko. Davydenko seemed ready to topple the No. 1 in a Grand Slam. Mr. Personality was up a set and 3-1. A missed backhand on break point for a 4-1 lead set the wheels in motion, although Federer deserves plenty of credit. His intelligence on court is overlooked due to his talent, and that was proved against Davydenko.

Federer read his opponent and knew exactly what he needed to do, which was not go for too much. Davydenko obliged by missing.

"I feel good," Federer told reporters. "I'm not panicking."

The first round was another example. Federer hung in there against Igor Andreev in the third set, tied one set apiece. He forced Andreev to beat him, not making any errors three set points down, and the heavy hitter couldn't do it. The aura remains.

Lleyton Hewitt lacked the game to worry Federer in the fourth round, and the Fed Express was in full flow.

Against Murray, look for Federer to revert to his usual offensive tactics. If the going gets tough, he'll find one way or another to dig out of it, as he's proved here.

"I think he really feels it more than I do," Federer said. "So I think the pressure is going to be big."