MADRID: Roger Federer moved a step closer to a record-equalling 20th Masters title when he thumped Janko Tipsarevic 6-2, 6-3 at the Madrid Open last night to set up a final showdown with Tomas Berdych.
The Swiss maestro, whose 19 Masters titles put him one behind record holder Rafa Nadal, stroked 25 winners on the blue clay of the Manolo Santana show court as he chases a fourth title of the year that would lift him above Nadal to number two in the world.
In breezy conditions, seventh seed Tipsarevic could not reproduce the form that helped him to a shock quarter-final win against top seed and Serbian compatriot Novak Djokovic and has now lost all five of his meetings with Federer.
Federer came into the tournament following a month-long rest and the 30-year-old is looking in ominous form as the world's top players prepare for the French Open starting in Paris later this month.
The 2009 Roland Garros and Madrid winner has won titles this year in Rotterdam, Dubai and Indian Wells and has only lost three times since falling to Djokovic in the US Open semi finals last September.
"I didn't even know actually about the number two ranking," the 16-times Grand Slam singles champion, whose match was watched by Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo, told a news conference.
"I'm focused on what I am doing here this week, trying to play well and get on a bit of a roll and I have played better and better as the tournament went on," he added.
Berdych reached a Masters final for only the third time when he edged out Juan Martin Del Potro 7-6, 7-6 in a gripping claycourt slugfest earlier yesterday.
The Czech sixth seed, who won the Paris Masters in 2005 and was runner-up in Miami two years ago, produced when it counted in the tiebreaks as the powerfully-built pair, who are both just under two metres tall, sent the ball fizzing back and forth.
Del Potro, the 10th seed, looked to be struggling more than his opponent with the slippery surface and also clashed with the umpire over a couple of line calls, refusing to shake his hand at the end of the match.
It was a desperately close contest, in which both players won a total of 79 points and broke each other's serve twice, but Berdych managed to club 41 winners to Del Potro's 30 and smashed down 15 aces to the Argentine's six.
Berdych has lost 10 of his 14 meetings with Federer, but ended his dream of Olympic singles gold in Athens in 2004 and also knocked him out of Wimbledon in the quarter-finals two years ago.
Federer won both their matches on clay, however, at the Hamburg Masters in 2005 and the 2006 French Open.
"It's going to be a tough match, Berdych is playing well himself and it's quick conditions so he can be a big threat," Federer said.
"I hope I can play a clean match on my serve and take it from there but he can really impose his game and that makes him a tough player to play against.
"He got me in two very big matches in my career and I remember those losses vividly and I always think we match up pretty well against each other because of the shot making."
Djokovic and Nadal have slammed organisers over the introduction of blue clay for this year's Madrid tournament, which they say creates a dangerously slick surface, and both have threatened not to return next year unless the traditional red dirt is reinstated.
Organisers argue that the blue courts make it easier for television viewers to follow the yellow balls but the players' complaints may prompt the ATP, the governing body of men's tennis, to switch back to red clay next year.
Nadal was beaten in the third round by Fernando Verdasco, his first loss to his Spanish compatriot in 14 meetings and his first defeat on clay in 23 matches.