IF THIS is the new era in men’s tennis, it looks awfully similar to the old one.
This was supposed to be the grand slam that heralded in a new world order but while one or two big names exited earlier than expected and a few new faces found their way through to the latter stages, both top seed Novak Djokovic and seven-time champion Roger Federer came through their respective semi-final contests – the latter with ease and the former after a fight – to ensure the final will be the domain of very familiar faces.
While this will be the pair’s first head-to-head in the final on the All England Club lawns, one or other of them has been involved in the conclusion to every men’s singles competition here except one since 2003 and of those Federer has won seven, with Djokovic wining once.
That level of experience, allied to quality tennis, an unerring will to win and immense self-confidence were factors that neither Djokovic’s opponent Grigor Dimitrov nor Federer’s foe Milos Raonic could ultimately overcome on Centre Court.
“It was always going to be hard to get rid of all four guys at the same time, let’s just be honest,” said Federer in reference to himself, Djokovic, deposed champion Andy Murray and the badly out-of-sorts Rafael Nadal.
Federer cruised past the big-serving Raonic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, taking him into the final having dropped just a solitary set and lost only one service game all fortnight. “From that standpoint, I said before the tournament, it’s probably going to be one of the guys we expect to be in the finals. Novak did his end and I was hoping I was going to be the other one. So I’m very happy.”
Djokovic was forced to battle through a trickier four sets after Murray’s conqueror Dimitrov, watched by girlfriend Maria Sharapova – who won the ladies’ title ten years ago – came back from a set down to win the second. But the world No 1 eventually won out 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, and the young pretenders must now wait at least another year for their shot at glory.
“I think guys have the level within themselves,” said Raonic. “I think it’s more just an understanding of how to deal with the situation. That’s something I didn’t do well and that’s probably the thing I can learn most from because I believe I can put myself in this situation again.”
By the end of the first game of the first set one already feared for Raonic. Federer had won the toss but elected to test his opponent’s nerve and make him serve in the swirling wind and unfamiliarity of a grand slam semi-final.
The Montenegro-born Canadian challenged the line call on his opening serve. It was arguably the only real challenge he posed throughout the one hour and 41-minute duration of the match and he lost it. While he regrouped enough to convert his second serve, he was less than convincing as the game fumbled on, offering his older and wiser rival a break point which Federer snatched before holding his own serve.
Referring to the early breakthrough, Federer said: “I grabbed it and then ran with it. Clearly I’m also looking for rhythm on my own serve, so holding for the next couple service games was important for me to stay ahead and somehow get the first set under the belt, which I did, because I don’t think we both necessarily played great in that first set.”
It was the ninth game of the second set before another chink appeared in the 23-year-old’s armour and having capitalised, Federer then served out the set before repeating the feat in the third to snuff out chatter of new champions.
Instead of a fresh-faced newcomer winning the trophy, the tournament could instead be celebrating the oldest open era winner of the men’s title come the end of play tomorrow. It was a statistic Federer said he was unaware of, but one that will give the youngsters something to mull over as they head back to the practice courts and the drawing board. It would also answer critics who said the 32-year-old would never win another slam.
He has been written off before, of course, having failed to make the final for two consecutive years in 2010 and 2011. He answered his doubters the following year, defeating Andy Murray. But having missed out again last year when Murray so memorably ended the
77-year British wait for a winner, the Swiss master is back and as full of classy shots and self-belief as he has ever been.
“My game’s back where I hoped it would be. Things were difficult all of last year, so I’m happy I worked hard off the court to get myself back into shape and back into contention. This year’s been very solid. I’ve reached a lot of semis and finals and have got two titles already.”