Fantastic Federer shows his class on grass

The Swiss maestro sweeps past Djokovic to reach his eighth Wimbledon final

For all its soaring majesty, Roger Federer’s has seemed a fragile art when it has come in contact with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal recently. There’s something to be said for the stark pathos of vulnerable beauty, but it doesn’t win any tennis matches.

So when Federer walked on to Centre Court on Friday afternoon, under a roof that had compressed the tension, baking it, thickening it, everyone wanted to know if he could, on his beloved grass, defeat the World No.1 and defending champion. For although Djokovic had won six of their seven last matches, they hadn’t ever met on grass.

With a masterly show of courage and opportunism — of grace under fire, and what grace it was! — Federer demonstrated why you write champions off only if you’re an idiot; or a provocateur. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to enter his eighth Wimbledon final.

Federer appeared relaxed — as relaxed as it’s possible to be in so big a match — in the early going. At 30-15, in the sixth game, he skipped out of the way of a ‘let’ serve and flicked it, behind his legs, one-bounce to Djokovic.

Two knifed backhand slices and a forehand whipped ‘inside-in’ provoked an error for 30-30. He then went over the backhand, hitting it with an explosive crack cross-court, to bring up a break point.

Once he had broken for 4-2, he had the set on his racquet at 5-3.

He closed it out much like Sampras used to, two aces down the ‘T’, a service winner, and an exchange of forehands, his finding the most extreme angle so he had an open-court put-away.

Federer took the set in 24 minutes, but 24 minutes later, Djokovic was up 5-2. The Serb did it with incredible stretch returns, blocking and hitting first serves at Federer, deep so he received mid-court balls.

He broke just once, but he did it early and was looking so much more threatening. The rallies were beginning to fall into a familiar pattern: Djokovic absorbing everything Federer could do and then catching him off guard.

The third set was crucial for Federer; Djokovic is near impossible to come back against. The points were getting longer — the first two sets were staccato in their rhythm — and Federer had a tight first service game. The pressure that he feels so often against Nadal, of having to be perfect every single time to win a point, was in evidence.

But somehow Federer shook off the tentativeness; by the third game, he was hitting his forehand with greater authority and drawing errors from the Djokovic forehand.

He had opportunities to break in the sixth game, where the level really lifted. Djokovic saved one break-point with extreme defence in a 23-stroke rally, but Federer created another with a 29-stroke rally that he ended with a backhand of gossamer down the line.

Djokovic hit the paint to stave Federer off before holding. It seemed as if the Swiss maestro had missed his opportunity, particularly when Djokovic had the chance to break at 4-4.

Over the next two games, Federer managed the desperate brilliance that can only come when pushed to the edge, when the mind is taken out of it.

He made his move on the Djokovic serve, a forehand and a backhand, each struck cross-court with venomous splendour to gain an opening.

At 15-30, stretched to his limit to his left, Federer spun up a hopeful lob. Djokovic back-tracked and over-hit his overhead. Although Djokovic wiped out one break-point with the old one-two, a wide serve and a forehand long-line, Federer took control of the next. Having made his way to the net on the back of some position-grabbing play, Federer nearly gave Djokovic the point with a weak backhand volley.

Perhaps he had caught him by surprise for instead of a pass he found a lob floating above his head.

The smash was as graceful in its back-pedalling, show-jumping movement as it was decisive in its effect. Federer had his second set, and Centre Court roared with him.

Djokovic was surprisingly sloppy in the fourth set.

A match that was even for three sets had reached tipping point. Federer couldn’t manage a first delivery when he served for the match until he got to 30-all.

But then, two glorious, relief-bringing first serves. Federer had done it.

Men: Semifinals: 3-Roger Federer bt 1-Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Women: Doubles: Quarterfinals: 1-Liezel Huber & Lisa Raymond bt Ekaterina Makarova & Elene Vesnina 7-6(4), 6-3.

Venus Williams & Serena Williams bt 10-Raquel Kops-Jones & Abigail Spears 6-1, 6-1; 6-Andrea Hlavackova & Lucie Hradecka bt 2-Sara Errani & Roberta Vinci 6-3, 6-4; Flavia Pennetta & Francesca Schiavone bt 9-Nuria Llagostera & Vives-Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-2, 6-7(0-7), 6-4.

Mixed doubles: Quarterfinals: 4-Leander Paes & Elena Vesnina bt Paul Hanley & Alla Kudryavtseva 6-2, 6-2; 2-Mike Bryan & Lisa Raymond bt 10-Rohan Bopanna & Jie Zheng 6-2, 7-5.

Third round: Paes & Vesnina bt Max Mirnyi & Victoria Azarenka 7-6(3), 6-3.

Paes-Vesnina in last four

Leander Paes and Elena Vesnina entered the semifinals of the mixed doubles with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Paul Hanley and Alla Kudryavtseva on Friday.

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