It was the final before the grand finale on Sunday – while that may sound disrespectful of the players from the other half of the draw, such was pedigree of the two contestants of the first semi-finals this evening at SW19 outside London. One of them had won four of the past six grand slam events, while the other was a six-time winner at Wimbledon.
With the roof drawn securely over the most hallowed turf in the game of Tennis, the elements were kept away. And even though, both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic took their time to find their elements, in the end they put on a scintillating show before the Swiss maestro relieved the defending champion of his crown with a 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-3 victory in just under two and a half hours.
The first set took a turn towards Federer in the sixth game – the Swiss using the backhand slice to great effect to force Djokovic inside the court and into playing the backhand slice to keep the ball in play. Federer then stepped around the ball to change the course of the point with a rasping forehand up the line to leave Djokovic scampering to keep with this intriguing conversation between rackets. The Serbian flailed his response wide and Federer dealt an important psychological blow.
Djokovic then failed to retrieve a stretch volley that left him sprawled on the grass to allow Federer the first break point of the first set. The Swiss took a 4-2 lead due to another unforced error from the world No.1 who dumped a routine forehand in the net. Federer wrapped up the set in 24 minutes to make a confident start to this promising match.
The steely Serbian though has his own arsenal of weapons, and he brought them to bear heavily at the start of the second set. Using his powerful backhand down the line to devastating effect, the Serbian pummelled the Swiss into a corner to earn three break points in the second game. Federer saved the first when Djokovic sent his return long, but put a forehand in the net on the next to surrender the break.
Riding on the early strike and a drop in Federer’s first serve accuracy, the defending champion leapt into a 4-1 lead and close to clawing back to level terms with the six-time Wimbledon champion. Federer tried to vary the pace to trouble his opponent, but his strokes lacked the direction and depth needed to cause any significant damage. A first serve into Federer’s body helped Djokovic to set point and an ace sealed the second set. In the 30 minutes it took the Serbian to draw level, he not only won the set but also transformed himself into the dominant player that was dictating play on the hallowed turf of the Centre Court.
Federer failed to take advantage of a Djokovic second serve at 15-30 in the second game of the next set, but the Serbian obliged with an unforced error to help Federer hold break point for a 2-0 lead. Federer though sent a forehand wide to let go of the vital opportunity. Neither man was playing superlative tennis, but Federer’s profligacy with the chances that came his way was beginning to suggest that the encounter was swinging towards to the reigning champion.
Federer set out to turn the advancing tide in the sixth game, earning a break point. He ended a 23-rally battle on the wrong end of the stick when he sent a forehand wide to leave Djokovic letting out one of his guttural screams as he clawed his way back to deuce. Even as the game stretched into a seventh minute, Federer found sustained brilliance off his backhand to clinch a 26-rally point for the second break point. Eventually though, Djokovic survived the intense passage of play unscathed when Federer volleyed long to end the game.
At 3-3 in the second set, matters were dead even at 69 points to each man but given the Serbian’s younger pair of legs, it was beginning to seem imperative for the Swiss legend to win the set in order to control the contest. When Federer failed to keep his forehand in the court to offer Djokovic a break point in the ninth game, the smell of danger hung heavy in the thick air inside the covered arena. An exhibition of forceful serving bailed Federer out of the grim situation – three booming serves nudging Djokovic to serve to stay in the set.
A couple of brilliant winners off either flank pushed Federer to within a couple of points of taking the set. Djokovic shocked himself, when he sent a surprisingly tentative smash long to offer two set points to the Swiss maestro. Even though he saved the first with a crisp forehand winner into the open court, Federer forced him into defense on the next point before thumping a smash winner even as he wheeled backwards, to clinch the third set.
A deflated Djokovic sent a tamely struck backhand wide to offer three breakpoints in the second game of the fourth set. The Serbian saved the first with a rasping forehand winner, but Federer took the driver’s seat when Djokovic drove a forehand wide on the next point. Federer consolidated the break to take a formidable 3-0 lead in the fourth set. At that stage Federer had reeled in 21 of 30 points and with the momentum swinging away, the defending champion was under intense pressure.
A couple of nervy errors from Djokovic helped Federer to 0-30 in the sixth game. An outstanding forehand crosscourt winner on the stretch from Federer made it three break points for a decisive 5-1 lead. Over the course of the past year, the Serbian has played some scintillating tennis in the face of defeat – he showed tremendous nerve yet again to claw himself back to deuce and then held serve to 2-4.
Federer though had the match on his racket and the seasoned legend did not allow an encore from Djokovic who had saved match points before winning against the Swiss in the last two US Open semi-finals. Federer served out the ninth game to reach his eighth Wimbledon finals and first since 2009 when Djokovic dumped a return in the net. “I am ecstatic, I am very happy. It was a great match,” said Federer.
Federer will arrive on Sunday, with plenty of history riding on the match. The Swiss has the opportunity to emulate Pete Sampras’s record of seven Wimbledon titles and surpass him as the man to have held the top ranking for the longest period in the open era. He will play either Andy Murray or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the finals, in what will be the maiden Wimbledon final for whoever wins the second semi-finals.