A dandelion is floats towards me in the humid Melbourne air. There's barely a breeze, but it drifts softly, never threatening to fall. I carefully pluck it out and cradle it in my hands. Between its soft, white hairs lie tangled green fibres. I make a wish and let it drift away.
Agnieska Radwanska moves well, defends well, and counter-punches with the best of them. But until she develops a serve and an ability to follow balls in, she'll always run into a player having a better day than her. That player today is Victoria Azarenka, although the first set doesn't fall that way. Azarenka's forehand is errant, and her serve is exposed as a real weakness as she collapses in the first set tiebreak. It's her only real lapse of the tournament so far. Yet as she's now famed for, she recovers mentally between sets superbly. She dictates play the rest of the match, doesn't allow herself to get too far behind the baseline, and hits her forehand with authority. She looks positively thrilled to be in the semi-finals.
The seats in Rod Laver begin to fill. Spoiled for choice corporates trickle in for a glimpse of Kim Clijsters. She's doing what everyone expected her to do against Caroline Wozniacki: win. The first set is wrapped up in no time, despite Clijsters getting tight near the end. Wozniacki's forehand, which has been much improved this fortnight, has reverted back to its loopy self. She misses uncharacteristic backhands, and comes to net on seemingly arbitrary shots. If Wozniacki is to win a Slam, not only does she need to become less of a pusher and more of a counter-puncher, but her shot selection also requires much work. She makes more of a match of it in the second, and forces a tiebreak, but comes up short. Clijsters pumps her fist as she dethrones the world number one. It never felt like it was going to be any other way.
'Quite surprised Federer beat del Potro in straights! What happened?' I see that tweet on my timeline later that night, and it's a fair question. From the way I saw it, it happened because Roger Federer played like it was 2006. If he was impressive against Tomic, he was even better against del Potro. He used his backhand to move the Argentinian around, then then whipped the ball up the line with ease. If he had half a chance on his forehand, he pounced. He barely missed. His serve was decent, his volleying timely, and he denied del Potro that chance to get any rhythm on that big forehand. As for del Potro, he didn't play like it was late 2009. His forehand was dangerous, but it missed too, and he didn't get onto it enough. He played to all of Federer's shots, and didn't find a weakness. For a del Potro fan willing him on, it was tough to watch. He had chances - not many, but some - and they were whiffed away with an untimely error or, more likely, brilliant play from the Swiss. It'd be unnatural if del Potro wasn't disappointed with how the match turned out, but he will still take much away from this Australian Open. However, he's got work to do to catch Federer, who was simply brilliant tonight.
If Federer was squeaky clean in his quarter-final match, Rafael Nadal was gritty. Standing seven meters behind the baseline to return the serve of Tomas Berdych, Nadal had to start from a defensive position on almost every return game in the first and second sets. It's a formula that has worked for him many a time, and it was good enough to get him to a first set tiebreak. Berdych served cleanly, utilised his massive forehand with effect, and was brave on his return games. A bit of a lucky call got him the first set, and it was game on for the Czech and the second seed. Nadal, of course, wasn't about to go away. His first serve started to find it's mark, his return improved dramatically despite not budging from the baseline, and he claimed the second in another nailbiting tiebreak. It wasn't until the third that Nadal's game began to change. He stepped forward on his returns, and as a result, was on the front foot in more rallies. He dictated play instead of being dictated to, and the errors began to come off the Berdych racket. Berdych slowly began to look smaller and smaller, and his net play went from bad to horrendous. As Rafa closed out the third set, lifted his leg and produced a massive fist-pump, it was as good as over. Half of the heavily pro-Nadal crowd cheered, and the other half left.