On an outside court here yesterday one enterprising cameraman, keen to illustrate Melbourne's hottest day for 70 years, cracked an egg over the playing surface and photographed it as it fried. Over in the Rod Laver Arena, meanwhile, Andy Roddick was given a roasting by the master of all master chefs.
By the start of the evening session the temperature had dropped to 35C from the day's high of 44C, but while the conditions were playable – even with the roof open – Roger Federer was not. The 27-year-old Swiss is in majestic form and Roddick had about as much chance of surviving the night as a solitary can of beer in a Melburnian's fridge. Federer won 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 and in Sunday's final will meet the winner of today's match between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco.
The new-look Roddick, lean and mean, had outlasted Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, in the previous round, but this semi-final defeat was a reminder that Federer has his number. In their 18 meetings Roddick has won only twice, in Montreal in 2003 and in their most recent game before yesterday in Miami last spring.
When Roddick won on the latter occasion Federer was still recovering from the glandular fever that ruined his chances here 12 months ago. If the former world No 1's up-and-down performances after Melbourne last year left the feeling that the illness took more out of him than even he believed, the form he has shown here, against Juan Martin del Potro and Roddick in particular, suggests that he may be back to his best.
"I do feel better mentally," Federer said. "I'm obviously more healthy so I can focus on playing well. I'm really pleased about my performance so far in the tournament. The draw was difficult and dangerous. I usually start playing my best towards the end of the tournament."
Federer, playing in his 19th consecutive Grand Slam semi-final, hit 16 aces (double the total of the man with the biggest serve in the game) and was never broken. His forehand was in wonderful shape and Roddick was repeatedly passed when he approached the net.
At times the American looked powerless. On break point in the third game he hit two good volleys but had no answer to a superb forehand winner down the line. Federer broke again in the fifth game and wrapped up the first set in just 32 minutes.
Roddick, to his credit, refused to let the Federer express run away with the second and third sets, but you sensed that the Swiss was biding his time before breaking in the 11th game of both. The match finished in appropriate fashion with Federer smacking yet another forehand winner down the line.
Both men were grateful to avoid the worst heat as Melbourne sweltered in its biggest heatwave for more than a century. With train services being cancelled because of buckled rail lines, no matches were played during the day except for those that started at 10am. They included the two British juniors, Laura Robson and Heather Watson, who played their quarter-finals in scorching heat. Watson laboured for an hour and three-quarters before losing 6-3, 7-5 to Russia's Ksenia Pervak, while Robson went through after her opponent retired hurt.
Robson, who later withdrew from her doubles with "mild heat stress", took the first set 6-3 against Elena Bogdan but was struggling at 5-1 down in the second when the Romanian twisted her ankle. Bogdan returned after lengthy treatment and, although she could barely walk, tried to complete the set.
Serving at 5-2, Bogdan got to 30-0 before the tournament doctor ordered her to retire. The No 4 seed left the court in tears in a wheelchair. In today's semi-finals Robson was due to play the top seed, Thailand's Noppawan Lertcheewakarn, whom she beat in last year's Wimbledon junior final.