Majesty was present on the Centre Court today – Roger Federer, that is. Footnote: the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were also present. The six-times Wimbledon champion utterly crushed the No.26 seed Mikhail Youzhny 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in a dazzling quarter-final display witnessed from the Royal Box by Their Royal Highnesses, along with assorted legends of the game. In the last four the Swiss master will now face the defending champion Novak Djokovic in their first ever Wimbledon meeting for a place in the final. Federer will be 31 in two months, but if inspiration is needed, he had only to glance at today’s legends in the Royal Box. Among them was Andre Agassi, who made it through to the US Open final in 2005 at the age of 35 – where he was defeated by one...Roger Federer.
Naturally as with practically every breath the Swiss takes these days, today’s win set various new records, the most significant being that he won through to the 32nd Grand Slam semi-final of his career. This broke the previous mark he shared with Jimmy Connors, having reached it at Roland Garros last month. And of course – whisper it – in the magic kingdom of what is statistically possible, he might yet win his 17th Slam title here, and regain the world No.1 spot, thus equalling Pete Sampras’s record of 286 weeks at the top. Today he got off to the briskest of starts by holding to love, whereas Youzhny’s opening effort could hardly have been more different. In what turned out to be a game lasting ten minutes, he went from 40-0 to break point against him when Federer forced him into an error at the net. The Russian (also age 30, also a father) saved that one...but four more would follow, and on the last he sent the ball long for 0-2.
At 1-4 it began to rain lightly, just as Federer brought up 15-40 with a disguised drop shot. Youzhny saved one but the rain became heavier before he could address the other, and play was suspended. When they resumed 20 minutes later – with the roof still open – Youzhny failed to put the ball away and it was 1-5. Frustrating stuff, and when he managed a passing shot for 30-all in the next game, Youzhny raised his arms in faux celebration. But two points later he left an attempted drop shot way short, and the set was Federer’s in 28 minutes. It was desperately dispiriting stuff for the former world No.8, and a reminder that his cumulative total yield from those 13 previous encounters with Federer was just three sets, needless to say with a maximum of one a match. It is not even as if grass was proving any kind of variable, as five of those 13 defeats were on the green stuff. More discouraging still, it got worse for Youzhny at the start of the second, when a couple of helpful netcords propelled Federer to an immediate break.
There was no sign of the back injury for which the Swiss received treatment in his round four victory over Xavier Malisse – and even if there had been, the only time Federer has retired during a match in his entire career was at the age of 16. One can only speculate at the degree of life-threatening agony required to compel the six-times champion to scratch from any match at his beloved All England Club. As it was, fast footwork took him to the double break for 2-5, and he served out to love to complete the second set in four minutes short of the hour.
Of course, the continuing Grand Slam longevity of Federer is all part of his legend. This was his 33rd consecutive Slam quarter-final – not only a record, naturally, but to put it into perspective, just five other men have even so much as participated in the last 33 Slams. But he has lost at this stage in his last two visits to the All England Club, in 2010 to Tomas Berdych, when such were the shockwaves that it felt like the world had fallen off its axis, and last year when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga compounded the defeat by coming back from two sets down. Perhaps Youzhny was clinging to that thought at the start of the third. Much good did it do him, as he was again broken at once.
This might have been his career-best appearance at Wimbledon but he’s a two-time semi-finalist at the US Open, and this was little short of humiliation. At 1-2 a little ray of sunshine came his way with two break points – his first of the match. But he netted the first, bellowing long and loud in Russian, to the amusement of the crowd, and sent the second long. Wouldn’t you know it, Federer broke again next game, ghastlier still courtesy of a Youzhny double fault on break point. In a mini-miracle he fought off three match points at 2-5, but next game Federer delivered a beautiful touch at the net to take the win in just one hour and 32 minutes.
“I played great today,” acknowledged Federer frankly. “It was a tough situation for him out there. Mikhail’s a great guy and always a fighter. He was down in all the sets and that makes it difficult to play freely. My game just suits up well against his. “This is a good tournament for me as I’ve got further than I have the last couple of years. My back was fine and is holding up, and it feels great being back in the semis. Usually once I get there I’m playing some of my best tennis. Of course playing Novak won’t make that easy and a big performance will be needed. He has improved his consistency so much. He’s a very complete player right now. But my back is fine and holding up. I’m not tired or injured. I’m fresh and ready to go, whereas at Roland Garros I struggled all the way through. “It’s really inspiring and a thrill for the game of tennis when royalty shows up, and other legends of the game. It’s very special that they came and supported tennis, and me. It’s great for the event, and for the players. Yes, I did meet William and Kate afterwards. They were nice, friendly. We had a bit of a chat – what exactly isn’t so important, I don’t think. But it was a nice conversation.”