Roger Federer is back where he seems to belong best. Not only one of the two men who’ll be vying for the 2012 Wimbledon title after his semi-final win over Novak Djokovic, but making history simply by being there, his eighth appearance in the final yet another record in a career of many. Adding even more significance, Federer will also reclaim the world No.1 ranking if he wins a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon title on Sunday.
While many observers had wondered whether Federer, at age 30, could once again challenge for the Grand Slam success that’s eluded him since victory in the 2010 Australian Open, the man himself understood that adding to the experience that’s made him such a prolific champion could ultimately provide the advantage.
“I've played a lot of tennis lately. I'm maybe the guy with most matches played this year, so it's not like I've been on the sidelines,” Federer said after his 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Djokovic, in which flawless serving and composure on the big points ultimately proved the decisive factor.
“I think that helps, you know, building confidence and momentum really. Obviously you want it to pay off in the big matches against the best of the players.”
Certainly that proved the true against Djokovic, a man who Federer has defeated only once in their past five Grand Slam outings, all of them semi-finals. Perhaps most mentally damaging of all was the fact that Djokovic had saved match points in come-from-behind victories in the past two US Opens.
The All England Club, however, provided the perfect opportunity to redress the balance; Federer has claimed six of his record 16 Grand Slam titles here and the manicured grass is the perfect surface on which to inflict the most damage with his pin point accurate serve and free-flowing ground strokes.
Having never contested a match against Djokovic on grass, Federer was simply stunning as he dethroned the defending champion in a match that was played under a closed roof. Controlling the rhythm, serving at his best and finding the most acute angles on his ground strokes, Federer claimed the first service break in the sixth game and then the first set in just 24 minutes.
Despite dropping the second set to his formidable and younger opponent, Federer refused to panic. He found himself with break point opportunities almost immediately in the third set, and while Djokovic would save those break points in both the second and sixth games, he also struggled to maintain concentration, surrendering the biggest break point opportunity of his own with a missed overhead in the ninth game of the third set.
It only added to Federer’s increasingly impenetrable confidence; with an overhead winner of his own, the Swiss claimed the third set with a break of serve in the 10th game, and when he broke again in the second game of the fourth set, it was only a matter of time before he was on his way to another Wimbledon final.
“It’s always nice beating someone like Novak, who has done so well here last year, the last couple years,” said Federer o f the two hour, 19 minute victory. “We've never played on grass. It was obviously a big occasion. These matches only help my confidence. I hope I can use it then for the finals.”
Despite the significance, celebrations were muted for Federer who, having been here so many times previously, understands that the most t important match of the tournament is still to come.
“I didn’t break down crying and fell to my knees and thought the tournament is over and I achieved everything I ever wanted,” he laughed. “I know it's been a great tournament, but we'll assess that once the tournament is over. Right now I want to try to play the best possible final I can.”
And with that final comes the opportunity for more history, Federer vying to equal the seven Wimbledon titles held by William Renshaw in the late 1800s and more recently by his own hero, Pete Sampras. Federer, however, is simply focused on his own preparation.
“I’m very proud to have a shot of equalling Pete, but right now the focus is obviously resting and preparing for the next match,” he said.
Considering that Federer has contested more finals than any other man in history, it’s an experienced approach that’s understandable.