Novak Djokovic took another assured step towards the defence of his Wimbledon title when he saw off the challenge of Germany's Florian Mayer in straight sets 6-4 6-1 6-4 to set up a dream semi-final against Roger Federer on Friday – the world No.1 and reigning titleholder against the man who has won here six times and desperate to make that seven. It will be the first time they have met at Wimbledon.
It had seemed possible that the scintillating form of the 29-year-old Mayer might pose a tough quarter-final challenge for the Serbian, and indeed it might have done had the German managed to convert more than one of the eight break points he conjured against someone who explained that his indifferent play in the first set was because he was having trouble adjusting to being in the fresh air after playing his three previous matches at these Championships under the Centre Court roof.
The opportunities were certainly there in the opening set. Mayer was prepared to slug it out in long, hard-hitting rallies, and he prospered, with his backhand being a particularly deadly weapon. It was one of his laser backhands which brought him a break point in the fifth game and another which provoked Djokovic into an over-hit forehand to drop his serve.
The No.1 Court audience stirred in anticipation of a possible upset but Mayer's advantage was annulled immediately as he dropped his own serve on a sequence of faulty ground-strokes. The players were forced off by rain for 20 minutes but on their return the Champion was slow into his stride and unforced errors left him love-40 down.
Here was Mayer's chance. Not only did he fail to seize it by letting Djokovic take the next five points to cling on to serve but dropped his own delivery from 40-15 up. Instead of leading, the German found himself a set behind after 40 minutes and you could almost see the confidence seep out of him.
"If I could have won that first set maybe I would have had a small chance," Mayer said. "He is not impossible to beat but if you don't take the sort of chances I had in the first set you cannot beat the world No.1."
Djokovic upped his game appreciably from that point, shortening the rallies by going on the attack and benefitting from boldness. For a start, his serve improved to such an extent that he dropped only three points in four service games, committed just two unforced errors and needed only 25 minutes to go two sets up.
Mayer's attempt to stay in the third set was admirable but the long five-setters he had played earlier in the tournament began to undermine his stamina. He managed to stay level until 4-4, then ran into disaster, dropping his serve to love. As the Serb served for a place in the semi-finals Mayer made his final, desperate effort, forcing three break points but squandering the lot. On his first match point, Djokovic ended Mayer's memorable run into the quarters with his seventh ace before hurling his wristbands and towel into the crowd.
Looking forward to that first clash with Federer on grass, Djokovic paid tribute to the Swiss man's grass-court skills. "Grass courts suit his style of game the most, so it's going to be an interesting match," he forecast. "Roger has been on top of the men's game for so long. This is where he won six titles and he definitely wants to prove to himself and everybody else that he can win it once again. He has won the most Grand Slams in history and is rated as probably the best player in history. He has won everything that a tennis player can win and he's coming back for more.
"He has a lot of respect from me, from all the players. But we are all rivals, we are all opponents. I don't think about his history or his success or whatever too much when I'm on the court. I just want to win that match.
"I've been playing well, constantly well, from the start of the tournament and hope to continue that way. I improved as a grass-court player the last two years, won the title last year, got to the semi-finals this year, so I'm feeling good about this surface and about myself on the court. Knowing that I won the title last year obviously gives me a lot of self-belief."