Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Fed shows legends majestic game
By Greg Garber
WIMBLEDON, England -- The King and his court -- Centre Court -- was the chief attraction Wednesday at the All England Club.
Royalty from various kingdoms was on hand here to watch Roger Federer render another commanding performance: Rod Laver, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, not to mention the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate.
Federer is seeking his record-tying seventh Wimbledon title, which would bring him even with Pete Sampras (1993-2000) and William Renshaw (1881-89). After Federer's startlingly complete 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Mikhail Youzhny, this is still conceivable. But, it must be said, not exactly probable.
His opponent in Friday's semifinal will be No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, who dismantled Florian Mayer 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.
This was not unexpected. Between them, Federer and Djokovic have won 21 Grand Slam singles titles; the six other quarterfinalists have a total of zero. Whoever wins will be guaranteed an opponent who has never appeared in a Wimbledon final. So feel free to go ahead and make that 22 majors.
"Roger has been on the top of the men's game for so long," Djokovic said. "He definitely wants to prove to himself and to everybody else that he can win it once again."
Afterward, Federer met with the royals and admitted he was aware of the lofty names populating the royal box, adding that it helped him step up his game.
"I think it helps when royalty shows up and the other legends of the game come to Wimbledon," said Federer, who visited with Will and Kate after the match. "It's not such a bad place, after all."
In a moment of comic relief, Youzhny sought some tactical advice from Agassi.
Federer, who turns 31 in August, has been plagued by a dodgy back for several years now. It came into play in his previous match against Xavier Malisse, requiring a consultation with both a trainer and a doctor. Federer's movement has been limited ever so slightly and the back has been a leading factor.
Against Youzhny, it didn't seem to limit him.
"My back is holding up," Federer said. "I could focus on tennis again, on tactics I wanted to play, instead of focusing on how to manage little issues or big issues, whatever you want to call them."
Federer has now beaten the Russian in all 14 of their matches. Youzhny has won all of three sets in 35 opportunities. It should be noted, however, that Youzhny's wife, Yulia, gave birth to their second son last night, hours before he took the court. So it's hard to blame him for being slightly distracted.
The last stroke, a gorgeous, running backhand volley, was a poignant reminder of Federer's unprecedented skill set -- a full toolbox that is best deployed on grass.
"He has a great variety in his game," marveled Djokovic, who went on to break it down. "He uses his serve very well. He opens up the court. He uses that slice really well to get the balls to bounce low. He's very aggressive at times. He can defend well.
"I think that grass courts are suiting his style of game the most. He has a really smart game for this surface, so it's going to be an interesting match."
Although Federer is the oldest among the quarterfinalists, it might surprise you to learn that Djokovic is youngest. He was born in Belgrade, Serbia, one week after Andy Murray. Djokovic's precocity reached another level Wednesday when he reached his ninth consecutive Grand Slam singles semifinal, a spectacular achievement. He is now fourth on the all-time list that goes back to 1925 -- Federer is No. 1 with 23, followed by Laver and Ivan Lendl with 10 -- underlining the notion that we are witnessing the greatest era ever in men's tennis.
Further, Djokovic has won 32 of his past 33 Grand Slam matches. Federer once produced a ludicrous 54-for-55 streak, but that was in his prime, back from 2005 to 2007.
After winning 16 of 27 majors -- two more than the record previously held by Pete Sampras -- Federer is oh-fer his past nine. It is not difficult to argue that going forward this very tournament represents his best chance to win a 17th major.
The intriguing thing? Federer and Djokovic have never met at Wimbledon, much less on grass. But the surface -- despite Djokovic's six victories in their past seven matches -- would seem to give him a fighting chance.
"I improved playing on grass in last couple of years," Djokovic said. "Most of our matches that we play against each other are very close. Very few points decide the winner. I won two years in a row against him with match points down, so I can't really say I've been winning comfortably those matches.
"That's what I expect in the next one, as well."
After reaching the final here for seven straight years, Federer was knocked out in the quarterfinals the past two. Now, he's excited to be one win from the final. A little more than a year ago, Federer beat Djokovic at the same stage, in the semifinals of the French Open. He did it in four sets, although two of them required tiebreakers.
"I'm looking forward to it," Federer said. "I haven't put too much thought into it, to be quite honest yet. We don't know quite what to expect. I feel it's a bit of an even ground."