Don't let the blissful smile fool you: Roger Federer has a sly side, and showed it in the second set of his quarterfinal with David Ferrer today. Driving a one-handed backhand down the line to drag Ferrer behind the baseline in full chase, Federer fluttered a drop shot, jerking the Spaniard forward. Ferrer sprinted to the ball and somehow scraped out a reply, only to see Federer float to his left and nudge a volley winner into the open court he'd created.
Some players use consistency to cause tennis torment on clay. Federer is one of the few who can conjure creative shot combinations that turn a point into a punch line, prompting even the opponent to crack a smile. Playing near-flawless tennis for much of the match, Federer gave Ferrer the runaround in a 6-4, 6-4 victory to reach the Madrid semifinals for the eighth time.
If you saw the sixth-seeded Spaniard save match points in the third-set breaker to rip Nicolas Almagro's heart out yesterday, then you know Ferrer competes with the ferocity of a man playing as if the family home is riding on the outcome of every point. The veteran grinder's sweat-soaked hair flapped against his forehead as he ran down drives today, but Ferrer's history against Federer rivals Sisyphus' record against the rock—he's winless in 13 matches—and was waging an uphill battle from the outset.
Ferrer erased a pair of break points in the opening game, but was spooked by Federer's aggressive second-serve returning and dumped successive double faults to drop serve and fall into a 1-3 hole. Federer's superior serve was the key stroke: He cracked seve aces, served 78 percent, dropped only six points on serve, and never faced a break point.
Given Ferrer's futility against the 2009 champion, you can't fault him for trying to red-line his game, hit out on his second serve, and play closer to the lines. Ultimately, Federer does everything better, and while Ferrer makes the difficult shot look demanding; the Swiss makes the demanding shot look easy. Even for a grinder as fit, fast, and feisty as Ferrer, it must be demoralizing to see Federer take all the pace off a drive and corkscrew a backhand drop shot that danced on the edge of the sideline before darting away, as he held for 3-3 in the second set. Ferrer fought off three break points before knocking a forehand into net as Federer broke for 5-4. Federer closed in style swatting successive aces to end a one hour and 21-minute match that never felt in doubt.
An aggressive Belgrade baseliner stands between Federer and his fifth trip to the Madrid final—only it's not world No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Janko Tipsarevic upset the 2011 champion and will try to beat Federer for the first time in five meetings, their most well-known clash coming at the 2008 Australian Open, when Federer fired 39 aces to win a thriller, 10-8 in the fifth set.