the legend

joyful rogger fedder

Friday, July 3, 2009

Federer's record collection keeps growing

Photo Titled Federer strikes
Federer strike

You have to hope that Roger Federer’s opponents don’t decide that the perfect piece of pre-match preparation is a quick glance at his career statistics. Tommy Haas would have had cause to feel distinctly queasy had he taken a look at them before his semi-final at Wimbledon this afternoon. And chances are he is feeling worse than ever now.

It will be scant consolation to Haas that he will return to the top 20 in the world with his first appearance in the last four at Wimbledon. Today he won the toss, and very little else. Federer triumphed 7-6 (7-3), 7-5, 6-3 and now has the chance on Sunday to regain simultaneously the two professional possessions he holds most dear – his Wimbledon crown and the world number one spot, both surrendered to Rafael Nadal within a six-week period last summer.

How about those statistics then? Future opponents, look away now. This was a record 21st consecutive Grand Slam semi-final for Federer. Think of it this way – that’s more than five years gone by since the last time he failed to make the last four, at Roland Garros in 2004. With victory over Haas, Federer maintained his agreeable habit of never losing a Wimbledon semi-final – and as a result he is not only the first player to reach seven straight finals in SW19 since the Challenge Round was abolished in 1922, but also the first player to make 20 Grand Slam finals.

It also means he has made 16 of the past 17 Slam finals, and on Sunday will bid not only for his sixth Wimbledon crown but for a record 15 Grand Slam titles. Want some more? Today’s victory was his 50th – count ’em – match triumph at Wimbledon. With 18 wins in a row, he is stringing together his longest streak since the summer of 2007. And, remember, all this is at a time when Federer is perceived as professionally vulnerable. All of us should be so vulnerable.

The point should be made that by no means did 31-year-old Haas fold today. But because of his age and the time he had already spent on court throughout the tournament, it was clear from the outset that he needed the first set. In his favour, he had nothing to lose. But although this set was to go all the way to the tiebreak, Federer looked worryingly comfortable from the start.

From the Royal Box such Grand Slam legends as Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg watched under overcast skies, with temperatures a little cooler than recent scorching days. Federer, as ever, looked gracefully fresh, immune to any kind of weather and, as it turned out, immune to any threat posed by his opponent’s game.

But those who were expecting a simple straight sets Federer victory found that Haas was serving well enough to stay with the legend throughout the first set. As ever the German wore his heart on his sleeve, bellowing with frustration when half-chances escaped him, visibly irritated and cursing himself in his native tongue at other times.

Federer finished off the match with a slam-dunk smash reminiscent of Pete Sampras

In the relatives’ box he was well-matched by his fiancée Sarah Foster, who never hesitated to display abject disgust or wild support for her betrothed at any given moment, especially in the first set tiebreak. Not for her the calm of Federer’s pregnant wife Mirka one row in front. Federer himself, of course, betrayed nothing but elegant composure – although when he clinched that opening set with his first set point opportunity, he permitted himself the smallest affirmation of a clenched fist and the imperative of: “Come on.” But it was a gesture made entirely to himself, not an exhibition of outward aggression.

It is seven years since Haas was ranked number two in the world but, nonetheless, thanks to his pre-Wimbledon tournament victory at Halle he came into this encounter on a 10-match winning streak, equalling the longest of his career. But before today he trailed Federer 9-2 in their career jousts, and the German had to look back to the Australian Open of 2002, when he was in his pomp, for the last time he notched up a victory. Two five-setters were the most he had managed against Federer since.

Five sets never looked likely today, although it was late in the second set before Federer got a break point. The bad news for Haas was that it was a set point too. He saved that one, and another, but Federer’s weapons were just too many and too varied for the German to live with. The Swiss produced an acutely angled crosscourt forehand for his third set point, and when Haas put a forehand long he could only smile ironically to himself as he trudged back to his chair.

In fact, it seemed the only misjudgement Federer made throughout the match was on the matter of HawkEye – four times he challenged, and four times he was wrong. But his last service game of the match, like so much of his tennis, was faultless. He finished off the match with a slam-dunk smash reminiscent of Pete Sampras, one of the few players still to hold a record Federer has yet to break. But as that record is seven Wimbledon titles, the best advice is ... give it time.

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